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As sports fans around the globe became transfixed last summer by the World Cup, a U.K. libel case featuring Ashley Cole, a top British footballer, captured the attention of many of the world’s media lawyers. Cole reached a settlement in a libel suit against two British publications that never actually mentioned him by name: Cole’s attorneys argued that readers could easily surmise his identity from Web sites that picked up the story and provided further detail.

Meanwhile, in late August, The New York Times finally came to grips with the conflicting patchwork of laws that allow Internet publication in one country, but may raise liability in others. In reporting about the arrest of Islamic terrorists in London, the Times added facts that, under the United Kingdom’s Contempt of Court Act, are considered prejudicial to the fair-trial rights of the accused. In the face of violations of British law, the Times‘ solution was to prevent U.K.-based Internet addresses from accessing the story. The need for this work-around underscores the deepest philosophical infirmity in U.K. and E.U. law (and, indeed, the laws of most other jurisdictions worldwide): Free press is just not as valued as a foundation of democracy as it is here. While the U.S. First Amendment allows only narrowly tailored restrictions on such speech, in the United Kingdom the public’s right to know is often first on the chopping block.

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