A press release is a broadcast

 

The Excalibur (York University) Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Foundation says press release is a broadcast

By Sarah Millar, Assistant News Editor

A motion filed against the libel claim of York professor David Noble could significantly affect broadcast law and Internet activities.

The York University Foundation (YUF) has filed a motion to strike down Noble’s claim of libel because the press release that Noble claims defamed him, which was issued on the Internet, should fall under broadcast libel law.

The motion says that since the press release was posted on the Internet, Noble had six weeks to file for libel. Noble claims that the press release falls under personal libel, where the statute of limitations is two years.

Noble said that the Internet is not considered broadcast. Noble points to the Ontario Court of Appeal case Bahledia vs. Santa, which debated this issue in 2003. Originally, judges ruled that the Internet was considered a broadcast medium, but in a court of appeal that decision was overturned.

“By tying my case to the high profile issue of Internet regulation, they have increased the visibility of my case and their culpability,” Noble explained.

Alex Bilyk, director of media relations at York, said that the university does not comment on cases currently before the courts.

“We normally would not comment on something that’s before the courts. Normally, that’s the tact (sic) of any defendent, it goes through the court. He’s got the contention and he’s got to prove it.

“I have no comment; I can’t speak for the foundation, but it’s in a court of law and that’s where it’s going to end up,” he explained.

Noble has filed the lawsuit for $25 million against the Canadian Jewish Congress Ontario Region, Hillel of Greater Toronto, the United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto, as well as the YUF and its president Lorna Marsden. He claims that they suggested that he was anti-Semitic after he passed out protest pamphlets in 2004.

Three years ago, Noble distributed flyers around campus, which made claims that directors and YUF members had ties with pro-Israel groups. The pamphlets also claimed that the university was biased and favoured Israeli groups.

After the distribution of the flyers, a fax was sent by Hillel of Greater Toronto to the university with their concern that the flyers insinuated that “Jews control York University.” Noble denies this was in the material he distributed.

In response, a press release was shortly issued by the university, in which Marsden condemned the literature. The press release did not name Noble individually, but did quote Dori Borshiov, the former president of Hillel at York, who expressed concern with the material that was handed out stating, “It is unacceptable for any students to be exposed to this type of bigotry.”

If the claim made by the YUF is upheld, the ruling could possibly make every form of Internet communication vulnerable.

Vincent Mosco, a professor of sociology at Queen’s University, said that if the court rules in the favour of the YUF, the decision could have a major impact on the entire Internet community, including bloggers and e-mail correspondence.

“Bloggers would be deeply affected, certainly, by the application of broadcast law to their activities. But all of us who communicate by e-mail would have to operate very differently – our language would have to be used much more carefully,” he explained.

Mosco said that while he is not a lawyer, he cannot foresee how a document that was online can be considered broadcast because Canada has distinguished between broadcasting and the Internet. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission also ruled that it will not be licensing nor regulating the Internet as it does with broadcasting.

“So, if a court were to say that e-mail is broadcasting, that would then require the Canadian government to rethink its entire legal and regulatory treatment of the Internet. I’m not sure how it would go about doing this because obviously it would be very difficult to license Internet users, or even the Internet service providers that we buy Internet use from.

“It strikes me as very difficult to imagine e-mail or web postings (and) treating it as broadcast communication,” he said.

The motion also asks for various other items in the statement of claim to be struck, saying the Noble has “failed to plead sufficient particulars to a claim of conspiracy.” The motion also moves to strike the claim made against Paul Marcus, chair of the YUF, saying that Noble has “failed to plead any material facts to support such allegations against Marcus,” as well as others.

The hearing on the motions will be presented in April.

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