News and Other Busyness
Squall 14, Autumn 1996, pg. 7.
TWO RADICAL BOOKSHOPS threatened with a libel action for stocking the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight launched a campaign to defend themselves in June.
Housemans and Bookmarks, both based in London, are victims of current libel legislation which allows booksellers, as well as editors, writers and publishers, to be sued.
Libel actions are notoriously expensive to defend. Even if successful, the defendant has no guarantee of seeing their costs paid if the person who brought the action is penniless.
Housemans and Bookmarks are being sued by two people mentioned in Searchlight - Alexander Baron and Mark Taha - along with the writers and editors of the magazine.
A third bookshop - Centreprise, in Hackney, East London - which didn’t even stock the magazine issue in question, settled out of court - a cheaper option.
Albert Beale, of Housemans, told Squall: “If I am a shop and sell a magazine which contains a critical statement that is libellous, then I am guilty of libel. You can’t expect bookshops to read through 5,000 publications in stock.”
Housemans and Bookmarks are confident of successful defences. Mr Beale said they currently have enough money - four figures - to see the case up to the “court door”. If the case comes to trial they will need ten times as much money.
“It’s a bit of a bluff,” he said. “In the past these cases have had to be settled before they’ve come to court by bookshops.” He added that a threatened writ against a fourth bookshop hadn’t materialised after the bookshop made its intention of defending the case clear.
“It does seem that calling their bluff has been working,” he said.
Mr Beale has been campaigning to have the libel laws altered through parliament. An amendment to the new Defamation Bill prepared by Mr Beale failed but the new bill will enhance the defence of “innocent dissemination”.
Bookshop libel fund,
c/o Housemans Bookshop,
5 Caledonian Road,
King’s Cross, London. N1 9DX