Supreme court gives media more libel protection

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian Supreme Court on Tuesday rewrote Canada’s libel laws to give more protection to reporters who can prove their stories were written in the public interest.

The nine judges created the defense of “responsible journalism” to aid publications which do all they can to produce even-handed and accurate accounts, even if not every statement turns out to be true.

Several large Canadian media organizations had argued that the current laws were too strict and made it easy for plaintiffs to win libel cases.

“A defense that would allow publishers to escape liability if they can establish that they acted responsibly in attempting to verify the information on a matter of public interest represents a reasonable and proportionate response to the need to protect reputation,” the court said.

The judges cited recent court decisions in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa which gave more protection to the media.

“The current law with respect to statements that are reliable and important to public debate does not give adequate weight to the constitutional value of free expression,” the Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Janet Guttsman