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President Obama signs law blocking "libel tourism" in US courts

President Barack Obama recently signed new legislation that will protect journalists, authors and publishers from becoming victims of defamation lawsuits filed in countries with harsh libel laws that discourage critical media, reports Freedom House. The practice of filing libel lawsuits in foreign countries with weak libel protections is called "libel tourism." Countries like England continue to permit this practice with foreign plaintiffs bringing libel actions against foreign defendants in British courts, regardless of where the alleged offense occurred.

"Libel tourism" is used by wealthy individuals and high-profile public figures to quash accusations of wrongdoing. The legislation signed by President Obama bars US federal courts from recognising judgements from foreign courts that are not in accordance with US constitutional protections for free expression.

England is popular with foreign claimants because in British law the defendant carries the burden of proof, suggesting that the reputation of the claimant is more important than the free speech of the defendant. Brazil, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore have also been noted as having weak protections for journalists, researchers and publishers.

"Regardless of the final outcome in courts, the high financial burden generated by 'libel tourism' lawsuits presents a dangerous disincentive for exposing wrongdoing by government officials, businesspersons and private citizens," said Freedom House.

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