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richardcameronwilson AT yahoo dot co dot UK

Time for an open and honest debate about Migration Watch? Defamation case against Labour activist Sally Bercow highlights the urgent need for libel reform.

with 13 comments

Right-wing thinktank takes its cue from the British Chiropractic Association

*Help defend freedom of speech in the UK – sign the petition for libel reform*

Migration Watch is a right-wing thinktank run by Andrew Green, former UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whose controversial claims about the scale and impact of immigration in Britain have been repeatedly challenged.

One might have thought that our former envoy to one of the world’s most repressive regimes would have been keen to defend basic human rights. So I was surprised to learn that Green and his organisation have made repeated use of Britain’s notoriously unfair and draconian libel laws in response to criticism of their views.

Today sees the launch of a renewed campaign to defend freedom of speech in Britain, prompted by the ill-judged libel threat by Migration Watch and Andrew Green against Labour commentator and activist Sally Bercow over comments she made in a TV discussion. She is fighting the claim with the help of formidable free speech advocates David Allen Green and Robert Dougans, who led the successful defence of science writer Simon Singh against an unfounded libel claim by the British Chiropractic Association.

Interestingly, Migration Watch have themselves repeatedly called for “open debate” about immigration:

“The census figures should stimulate an open and honest debate about this highly sensitive issue”, Migration Watch, February 2003

“It is time for a fundamental rethink on the back of an open and honest debate” – Andrew Green, BBC, September 2005

“An open debate would be welcome”, Andrew Green, Guardian, March 2010

Migration Watch’s David Coleman was also keen to cite “freedom of speech” in 2007, when students at Oxford University controversially sought to have him sacked over his association with  the Galton Institute (formerly known as the Eugenics Society).

Migration Watch is one of a small number of NGOs (splitting this dubious honour with the “Quilliam Foundation” and the BCA) who, while seeking to be part of a public discussion, have chosen to respond to criticism within that discussion by resorting to Britain’s discredited and dysfunctional libel laws.

It is indeed time for an “open debate”. Migration Watch should practise what they preach, and drop this misguided libel threat.

See also: New Statesman, “Why MigrationWatch is wrong — a plea for a more robust debate on immigration”.

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Written by Richard Wilson

October 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm

13 Responses

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  1. [...] to Richard Wilson: She is fighting the case with the help of formidable free speech advocates David Allen Green and [...]

  2. Go Sally!

    Jane

    Jane Phillips

    October 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm

  3. Oh for goodness sake. Mig Watch may have badly overreacted but how stupid and naïve to trot out the junior common room riposte about Hitler and fascism. By moving the argument into such nasty territory and then, by implication, placing her opponents there, she’s just asking for trouble. She’s silly and clearly doesn’t know better. I question why she was doing the papers in the first place.(Any guesses????) Speech is free (we hope) but has value too. People like her debase it.

    nickyp

    October 1, 2010 at 5:20 pm

  4. [...] leave a comment » For my details on this, see my previous post… [...]

  5. I don’t think it’s naive or “junior common room” at all. Many of the papers these days are doing a very good job of twisting facts and figures to suit various agendas, on immigration and other matters.
    For instance, stories about immigration from Europe often somehow end up illustrated with pictures of women wearing a full veil; we’ve had rubbish like “7/7 bombers were asylum seekers” and numerous other episodes of outright falsehood and lying.

    Statistics are often misrepresented, and some of the newspapers quite often write in terms that strongly imply only white people can be British, like the ghastly “One in five Britons will be ethnics” from earlier this summer, which played down the fact that the fastest population growth would be “other white”

    So, when statistics are so routinely twisted, in some of the biggest selling newspapers, then no, I don’t think there’s anything naive in pointing that there are precedents for this sort of scapegoating.

    On the contrary, I think it’s a very important thing to do.

    Nigel Whitfield

    October 1, 2010 at 6:51 pm

  6. [...] Time for an open and honest debate about Migration Watch? Defamation case against Sally Bercow high… Right-wing thinktank takes its cue from the British Chiropractic Association *Help defend freedom of speech in the UK [...] [...]

  7. [...] Watch starts an open debate about immigration… By maxdunbar … by suing someone who disagrees with them. The census figures should stimulate an open and honest debate about this highly sensitive [...]

  8. [...] 3, 2010 at 5:56 pm (Max Dunbar, campaigns, immigration) … by suing someone who disagrees with them. The census figures should stimulate an open and honest debate about this highly sensitive [...]

  9. Migration Watch…

    Taking the Think out of Think Tank and filling it with…

    Markus

    October 4, 2010 at 4:26 pm

  10. ‘Sally Bercow, the well known political commenter and broadcaster’. Easily the most amusing sentance in the document pdf, and leaving even Bercow’s comments trailing.

    Well known? Only because of whom she married. Political commentator? Certainly, she’s the most outspoken Speaker’s wife in British political history. Broadcaster? IMO she’s only invited onto TV/radio stations because of the controversy she generates – it can’t be because of her insightful political analysis.

    Bercow has no legal case to answer. However, the legal spat will serve to publicise her comments. Good!

    Anonymous

    October 9, 2010 at 7:11 am

  11. [...] Richard Wilson looked at Migration Watch’s defamation case against Sally Bercow. [...]

  12. [...] “Migration Watch” may sue critic [David Allen Green via Richard Wilson, [...]

    October 14 roundup

    October 14, 2010 at 2:27 pm

  13. [...] Wilson at Don’t Get Fooled Again.  The first post provides us with background to the Sally Bercow/Migration Watch case, the second a quite invaluable .pdf file with the raw data we need to make up our own [...]


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