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British journalist cheers Lancman’s NY libel law

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Howard Koplowitz

A state law co-authored by state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) protecting journalists who report on terrorism from libel lawsuits in other countries that has since become federal law is now gaining traction across the pond.

Back in 2008, Lancman and state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) gained approval for the bill, which blocks so-called “libel tourism,” or the filing of libel lawsuits against journalists in countries with unfavorable laws to reporters, which was then used as a model for the federal Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act.

The SPEECH Act allows foreign rulings on libel to be unenforceable in U.S. courts.

Now Nick Cohen, a columnist for The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom and author of the newly released “You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom,” says the U.K. should adopt Lancman’s bill.

Cohen’s book refers to the assemblyman’s “magnificent” 2008 speech in London, where Lancman urged members of Parliament to adopt his legislation.

Lancman’s bill was inspired by terrorism expert Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld’s book that exposed Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz as a suspected financier of al-Qaeda.

In turn, bin Mahfouz sued Ehrenfeld for libel in Britain because of the country’s less restrictive libel laws.

The book had been published in the United States and Ehrenfeld lives in New York City.

An English court sided with bin Mahfouz after Ehrenfeld refused to testify in protest.

She countersued in Manhattan federal court, but a judge ruled the United States did not have jurisdiction over an English court’s decision, which prompted Lancman’s bill. The author faced hefty fines under the British court’s sentencing.

In addressing members of Parliament and journalists in London, Lancman said “all of us are threatened” when “American journalists and authors can be hauled into kangaroo courts on phoney-baloney libel charges in overseas jurisdictions who don’t share our belief in freedom of speech or a free press.”

Lancman said he hopes Cohen’s book becomes an impetus for Britain to change its laws.

“New York is the world’s crossroads, so what happens out there — in this case, the U.K.’s libel tourism problem and its misuse by terrorism’s apologists and facilitators — affects us here, and it’s nice to know that our defense of free speech here in New York is likewise having an impact out there as pressure builds in the U.K. to cease being a haven for libel terrorists,” the assemblyman said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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