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No document containing hyperlinks is an island

20 August 2010

When establishing the meaning of words that are claimed to be defamatory, one must look at the context in which they appear.

In 2008, The Spectator published an article on its website which said:

“As Harry’s Place points out:-Demos sponsored and participated in a debate at IslamExpo and a seminar on ‘Political Islam’. That’s right: a left of centre think tank worked with a clerical fascist party to organise a conference about its racist, genocidal, theocratic political programme.”

Islam Expo Ltd, the organisers of the event, sued for libel. The Spectator argued that the court should look at the source of the quotation which was linked to the article. From this, it argued, it was clear that ‘party’ must be a reference to the British Muslim Initiative or the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, as the words ‘IslamExpo’ appeared in the short quotation in the Spectator’s article, and the original article also said that the British Muslim Initiative, Muslim Brotherhood and Islam Expo “are one and the same”, Tugendhat J held that the words were capable of referring to the organisers.

The judge emphasised that he did not intend to rule whether looking at hyperlinked documents was right in law – but in cases like this, where one internet posting comments on another, it must be sensible to look at the original posting to ascertain the meaning of the second post.

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