An Ontario judge has tossed a libel action against three political bloggers, arguing that web-based political discussions are forums for “the parry and thrust” of vigorous debate and participants whose reputations have been attacked should fight back with words, not legal action.

An Ontario judge has tossed a libel action against three political bloggers, arguing that web-based political discussions are forums for “the parry and thrust” of vigorous debate and participants whose reputations have been attacked should fight back with words, not legal action.

The Aug. 30 ruling is under appeal, but lawyers for both sides say it could create new rules for applying lible law to online discussion threads.  “Internet blogging is a form of public conversation,” Justice Peter Annis wrote, and each party has an opportunity “to respond to the disparaging comments before the same audience in an immediate or a relatively contemporaneous time frame. This distinguishes the context of blogging from other forms of publication of defamatory statements.”

He faulted a blogger described during a 2010 discussion as “one of the Taliban’s more vocal supporters” for suing father than refuting allegation and responding to his critics in a way that would lessen the “sting” of the libel.

The defendants’ lawyer calls it “the first Canadian judgment that analyzes, in a comprehensive manner, the context of political blogging in a defamation case.” The judge ultimately ruled the description was protected as fair comment.

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Media lawyer Brian Rogers told The Star the decision “shows an understanding of the blogosphere that not all judges have managed to capture …. The forum and the context have to be viewed as an important part in assessing whether something injures someone’s reputation.”

Read the report in The Lawyers Weekly.

Read the ruling in Baglow v. Smith, [2011] O.J. No. 3886.