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July 2024

MLRC and the Historic Commonwealth: Conferences in Sydney and Dublin

And London Coming in September

By George Freeman
PUBLISHED IN: MediaLawLetter July 2024
An interactive pre-publication vetting of a hypothetical article at the recent European Conference in Dublin, Ireland.

Unintentionally, we certainly have had an emphasis this year on the historic Commonwealth. In January we held a full-day Conference in Sydney, drawing some 125 Australian lawyers. Then, last month, we presented the 8th in a series of European Conferences in Dublin, following similar gatherings in Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam. It also was very successful, convening some 100 lawyers mainly from Ireland and Northern Ireland, with a few from England, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands as well. The Irish attorneys, as the Australians before them, told us how needed such meetings were, not only for the substantive information imparted, but because apparently there is no tradition or habit of media lawyers getting together and informally talking shop in these countries.

And in September, as per our normal schedule, we will have our biennial International Media Law Conference in London; this should be a more normal meeting than the one two years ago which had to be rearranged in the last minute due to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral occurring on the first day of the planned Conference.

Branching out globally- as well as to the digital world – was one of the initiatives we started many years ago. Not only did international companies and foreign law firms, as well as tech concerns, fit into our mainstream area of interest, membership in the MLRC was right down their alley. And it seemed that they would gain from our materials and discussions, just as legacy American media lawyers long had. So we started this series of European Conferences in Paris, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo murders, with three goals:

  • To inform and educate European lawyers on the timely and interesting legal issues of the day which were pertinent to their daily work, just as we traditionally have done in the U.S.
  • To some degree, to proselytize First Amendment values, and to encourage European lawyers to be ready, willing and able to work cooperatively to seek greater protections for a free press and free expression.
  • And to get European media lawyers together with a spirit of camaraderie, so that they could better team up on a cross-border basis to work collegially for improvements in media law across all the EU (when we started the UK was still part of the EU).

I think it’s fair to say we have so far succeeded fairly well on the first two goals. The third has remained somewhat elusive, as in three Paris gatherings, we have had mainly French lawyers; the two Berlin meetings have been attended primarily by German lawyers; and the two Amsterdam conferences were populated chiefly by Dutch lawyers. So too last month’s Irish Conference, held at Google’s offices in Dublin, was mainly attended by lawyers from the island of Ireland, both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

That said, the program presented excellent speakers on a variety of media law topics. We started with a session moderated by the head of our Irish Planning Committee Ciaran O’Shiel of the A&L Goodbody firm about the weaknesses of Irish media law. In particular, the panel discussed a plethora of new defamation cases brought in Ireland, how few were dismissed early, and whether Ireland was replacing London as a destination of libel tourism.

Planning Committee member Ciaran O’Shiel moderating a session on the weaknesses of Irish defamation and privacy law with panelists Sarah Lennon, head of Litigation & Regulation, Google and Eva Morris, A&L Goodbody.

That was followed by two welcoming addresses. As Dave Heller and I were ever vigilant as to the proper diplomatic protocols between the Republic of Ireland, centered in Dublin,  and Northern Ireland (part of the UK with Belfast as its capital), we had invited both the President of the High Court of Ireland David Barniville and Adrian Colton, Head of the Kings Bench, Northern Ireland to speak. Justice Colton’s elegant talk is published elsewhere in this edition. Olivia O’Kane, DWF, moderated the next session focusing on litigation and regulation dealing with on-line matters and content. Both of these first two substantive sessions seem to have spoken very directly to the Irish attorneys in the audience and their daily problems.

We then broke for lunch, but to “entertain,” or perhaps better said frighten and sadden, the attendees, Dave and I had a discussion over lunch about the Trump trials and our presidential race. It was interesting to see how totally on top of these topics the Irish lawyers were, and how incomprehensible they were at how the United States could find itself in the bind it is in.

I began the afternoon with an interactive prepublication exercise, vetting an article for libel and privacy from an Irish, UK, EU and US point of view. What I found fascinating was that there was less differentiation in the analysis among the law and lawyers of the various jurisdictions than there was between lawyers from each of the countries we got comments from. On almost every issue, lawyers from the same country tended to disagree with each other – prepublication review seems like a pretty subjective exercise.

The penultimate program was much anticipated by the attendees. It dealt with AI, but instead of the usual general discussion about where AI is going and what legal issues may loom in the future, Lesley Caplin of Dentons presented actual AI software which can render real prepublication review to a news article. There were many views on how much such a program could be relied upon, but it certainly brought the AI discussion directly into our tent. We concluded the program with a debate about the traditional English rule which can hold in contempt the publisher of information about evidence pre-trial – a far cry from the American regime where articles about the details of upcoming trials are commonplace. Bob Latham of Jackson Walker took on barrister Mark Harty in an entertaining, informative and civil debate on this issue – both speakers unfortunately far more eloquent, truthful and on their toes that the more-publicized debaters a few days hence.

Bob Latham, Jackson Walker, and Mark Harty, an Irish barrister, debating the UK law of contempt of court for publishing pre-trial evidence.

If you regret that you weren’t there, we strive to limit American attendance quite severely, both not to undercut the upcoming London Conference, and in furtherance of the three goals listed above, which really focus on the intermingling and education of European lawyers. But it was a great day, and we thank our sponsors, Google, A & L Goodbody, Dentons and DWF for supporting the entire endeavor.

The post-program reception at Google’s Dublin offices.

Our Commonwealth triumvirate will climax in London September 22-24 with our traditional global Conference there. It is a unique conference as its over 200 attendees usually are one-half American and one-half from the UK, the EU and the rest of the world. And if the superb programs aren’t enough of an incentive, it is played out against the background of the culture and history of London, not to mention all the activities and sites available to experience while you are there. In that respect, there will be Sunday receptions at the Howard Kennedy firm, overlooking London Bridge, and one at the modern offices of Bloomberg. There also will be a reception on Monday evening, sponsored by Hiscox, at The Old Bailey, London’s famous old criminal courthouse.

But we are planning terrific programming as well. It’s hard to know where to start, but I’ll begin with a session we are planning on the Royal Scandals and what the litigations commenced by Harry and Meghan have taught us about them and about privacy and copyright law. This was a program we had planned two years ago, but seemed inappropriate then due to the Queen’s death. We also are planning a new session on comparative IP law, bringing together IP specialists from the US, UK, the EU and Australia to compare and contrast their laws; the panelists will also discuss the various copyright lawsuits brough against OpenAI and other AI platforms by legacy media companies. And we will start the proceedings with a panel of British journalist all-stars discussing coverage of politics, relationship with sources, and privacy law in relation to coverage of celebrities.

Our Commonwealth triumvirate will climax in London September 22-24 with our traditional global Conference there. It is a unique conference as its over 200 attendees usually are one-half American and one-half from the UK, the EU and the rest of the world.

We also are trying something new: a one time slot will be allotted to three breakout sessions, allowing for smaller groups with more interactivity. One will be a workshop on media deals; a second will focus on new EU regulations, the Digital Service Act, data privacy and the like; and a third – as part of our emphasis on attracting younger media attorneys to our gatherings – will be a 101 on International Media Law.

We also will have new iterations of some traditional standards. Some leading human rights lawyers will discuss persecutions and prosecutions of journalists abroad, and their experiences in trying to protect free speech in jurisdictions quite hostile to the concept. And we will have a session on the progress made with Anti-SLAPP initiatives throughout Europe.

We also will mirror two very successful programs from the Dublin Conference: we’ll do something of an encore of the demonstration of an AI vehicle by which to do prepublication review, and perhaps have a debate on whether AI is a positive or negative development. We also will have an interactive session reviewing a hypothetical article with input from attorneys from around the world, doing the analysis with their country’s libel laws in mind.

And finally, we’ll have a luncheon session featuring renowned media and human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson who will talk about her decade-long campaign trying to free Julian Assange and her experience with him just a few weeks ago as his case was resolved; she also will speak about the #MeToo movement and how it affected libel law.

Our registration portal is open. If we didn’t see you in Sydney or Dublin, we hope to see you in London.

George Freeman is executive director of MLRC. Replies to this column are welcome; email