A strange day for defamation and the internet. Jane Clift has lost her case against the Daily Mail – where she was trying to get the identities of two commenters on a Daily Mail article to sue them for defamation.
Mrs Justice Sharp said that Clift’s case was not strong enough to merit the identification, and that she should not have taken the comments as seriously as she did.
“It was fanciful to suggest that a sensible and reasonable reader would understand those comments as being anything more than ‘pub talk’,” she said in her ruling.
This raises a lot more questions than it answers. In no particular order:
* The Daily Mail has a massive audience of millions. I don’t know any pub that big. How is it not defamatory to post something libellous on a website? If the comments were not defamatory, then let her lose that case in a court of law.
* If the comments were not defamatory, then why has the Mail removed them?
* Is this open season for comments on websites? Do we all just need thicker skins? It’s not like Ms Clift wrote the article herself (or posted a video where someone wrote “this sucks” which happens all the time on YouTube) – she was the subject of an article which detailed a traumatic time in her life. Doesn’t she deserve better?
* Was this a case of Ms Clift looking like too much of a complainer? Slough council put her on some watch-list for complaining about a drunk, she then sued them (and won), and then has taken a legal case against the Mail – who wrote a favourable article about her in the first place. On paper, that looks like a lot of complaining. But then, what are you supposed to do? It’s like a Kafka-esque chain where one (legitimate) complaint has led to another, and to her life being totally up-ended. She’s using the courts, which is what they are there for.
As someone who works in publishing, it’s a ruling that is on one level a relief. Unless, of course, you’re the one being talked about.