Libel suits OK only in country of main audience


BRUSSELS -- Broadcasters and journalists accused of libel can only be sued in the country where their media's main audience is, the European Parliament voted Thursday.

The vote in Strasbourg aims to end the practice of "libel shopping," whereby defamation suits are filed in the legal system with the harshest laws.

The Euro-MPs backed the report by British Liberal Democrat Diana Wallis who said that if it was not clear where the media's main target audience was -- for example with news Web sites -- the law of "the country in which editorial control is exercised" applies.

They said that "the language of the publication or broadcast" and the "sales or audience size in a given country" should be taken into account when determining who the principal audience is.

Wallis said that with so many articles being published on the Internet, she was concerned that thousands of ordinary people would find themselves facing legal challenges.

The European Commission -- the EU's executive body -- had originally sought a formula under which the law of the country where the damage occurs would apply. The issue was further complicated when EU governments tried to remove any provisions regulating media libel.