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Lowndes Jordon partner Rick Shera has taken issue with Justice Minister’s description of the internet, and specifically bloggers and Tweeters, as “the Wild West.”
Earlier today, Simon Power asked the Law Commission to review so-called “new media,” whose role in the news cycle has been highlighted by instant reporting of events, and a more freewheeling approach to issues such as name suppression – as demonstrated by the Whale Oil case.
“I don’t agree internet is the Wild West,” Mr Shera told NBR.
“Laws that have always applied to any form of discourse – copyright and trademarks, defamation, privacy, harassment, suppression as was seen in the Whaleoil case, prohibition on objectionable material, privacy – all apply equally online.”
Mr Shera described the Whale Oil case – in which blogger Cameron Slater was fined for breaching name suppression orders – a paradox.
“On the one hand it makes it clear that existing laws apply equally online. On the other, many would say that it highlights how inadequate those laws are in the face of the reach, permanence and jurisdictional collapse that is the internet.”
Mr Shera said the added dimension of a global internet also plays havoc with traditional jurisdictional boundaries, so any move to restrain freedom of speech in the public interest also has to be balanced against its effectiveness.
He also suggested that agencies such as the BSA and ASA regulate professions whose members sign up to a code – “[But] how that would be extended to the internet generally and where the line would be drawn will prove very difficult questions.”
The Law Commission review is useful as a vehicle for discussing the issues raised by the rise of the internet, Mr Shera said.