Saturday, February 10, 2007

The fine line between "fair comment" and libellous remarks

For reasons which may be apparent to many bloggers, my mind has recently been concentrated on this subject. There was a disturbing story from the Guardian today. A poor old restaurant reviewer has been found guilty of libel:

The Irish News in Belfast has announced its determination to fight the jury's verdict and the £25,000 awarded in damages to Ciaran Convery, who sued over a review in 2000 that described his staff as unhelpful, his cola as flat, and his chicken Marsala "so sweet as to be inedible".

...Seems a trifle (no pun intended) harsh and one can't help wondering about the future of free speech. I am a great one for trusting the judgement of juries, but this one is causing pause for thought.

One can think of plenty of worse critic remarks than the above. Enjoy!

Matthew Norman:
Did they mean to create one of the world's worst restaurants, or was it all a tragic accident?

Matthew Norman again:
'How was the coq au vin?' the waiter inquired. 'Really nice, huh? ... And really traditional!' Well yes, I thought, if infusing that classic chicken dish with a metallic tang hinting at a generous sprinkling of iron filings is the tradition.

Fay Maschler:
It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine anyone conjuring up a restaurant, even in their sleep, where the food in its mediocrity comes so close to inedible

It is, all things considered, quite the worst restaurant in London, maybe the world.

A.A.Gill Again:
Slow-baked cheese-and-onion tart - snot in a box.

A.A.Gill Teletubby Again, Again:
I am prepared to stick my neck out and say that the Fashion Cafe is the worst restaurant that I have ever reviewed. It hit professional depths in every department. The dining room looks like it was decorated over a weekend for an art school. There really is very little point in describing the food in any detail. I didn't put a single thing in my mouth twice. It all went back.

Michael Winner:
I have recently had the worst meal I've ever eaten. Not by a small margin. Not 'This is terrible but another one somewhere else was nearly as bad.' I mean the worst! The most disastrous. The most unrelievedly awful! You don't need to be an atomic physicist to grill steaks, do you? They arrived so raw you could have drowned swimming in the blood. But the pi¿ce de resistance was my persillade of tongue. Leathery, so hard it was difficult to cut and, as far as I could tell, not fresh. I picked away at it. What I should have done was tell everyone, then and there, very icily, that it was a disgrace.

Michael Winner again:
What I only go through. How I suffer. The food is grotesque, so awful as to be almost indescribable and an absolute disgrace. The owners should call a board meeting at once and fire themselves.

Giles Coren:
The taste and texture of the pease pudding reminded me of occasions when I have accidentally inhaled while emptying the Dyson.

Jay Rayner:
The old Sheriff's Court is now a place where the crimes are actually committed. Granted, bad cooking probably does not warrant a long stretch inside. But the offence of grievous bodily harm upon a lovely little sea bream really ought to carry with it some form of judicial penalty.
Matthew Fort:
Occasionally, you come across a restaurant that causes you to question the very nature of human existence. Now, I can't be sure of this, but I got the impression from the menu that the food has a Vietnamese slant to it. [What] looked like a sea mine in miniature was the most disgusting thing I've put in my mouth since I ate earthworms at school. The contents appeared to have been scraped off the inside of an S-bend. On second thoughts, I preferred the worms.

In contrast, describing the staff as unhelpful, the cola as flat, and the chicken Marsala "so sweet as to be inedible" seems rather mild, and hardly worth a £25,000 penalty. I am disturbed. I look forward to hearing the result of the forthcoming appeal.

Matthew Fort has an excellent dissemination of this dispute here which culminates with this supreme paragraph:

However, this judgment in Northern Ireland would strike at the very heart of the critical process. It would inhibit accuracy, integrity and, above all, the fairness that has long been the hallmark of the British critical process. And would the world be a better place if our restaurant critics, who are all honourable men and women, were denied the language of Shakespeare, Milton and Spotty Muldoon, if the mild words of reproof that one or two have been known to decorate their columns were forbidden to them? I think not. Once again the law has shown itself to be hare-brained and half-baked (or should that be a half-baked hare's brain?).

I have to agree with Matthew Fort. Everyone who expresses a view in print, or on the internet, has to think long and hard about what they are saying. But, at the end of the day, the freedom of this country is going to end if we can't allow people to express a frank opinion.

No comments:

Post a Comment