The latest edition of Outcast, a small but well-respected gay magazine, has had to be cancelled because the company that usually prints it say their staff have been intimidated and fear reprisal attacks if they go ahead with the printing.
The February edition of Outcast contained an editorial and a half-page article detailing irregularities in the registration at Companies House of Mardi Gras 2000 Ltd.: a commercial enterprise owned in part by gay press barons Kelvin Sollis, David Bridle, and Tony Claffey.
Following the appearance of this article, solicitors Mischon de Reya acting for Chronos Publishing Limited, publishers of the Pink Paper and Boyz, wrote to Outcast’s Internet Service Provider, NetBenefit PLC, fearing that Outcast might publish something defamatory in a future article that might be published on their website.
On the 29th March at 4 p.m., Outcast received a letter from NetBenefit, warning that: “we advise you that we will suspend your website with effect from 6 p.m. today unless we receive from your solicitors written assurance that the entire content of your website does not contain any defamatory material”. After such impossibly short notice, NetBenefit then shut Outcast’s website down at 7 p.m..
Outcast has now been forced to move the content onto a server in America, (operating via the original URL of www.outcastmagazine.co.uk).
Outcast has traditionally printed provocative articles that challenge the ‘gay scene’ and the ‘pink pound’ economy. It has published controversial articles by writers including Ken Livingstone MP, Peter Tatchell, Mark Simpson, Emma Butcher, and Paul Burston. This originality and independence have led to it being attacked by mainstream gay titles, most of which print only a narrow, highly commercial and ‘London-centric’ view of gay life.
OutRage! condemns the bullying tactics that have been used to gag Outcast and censor free speech. It would be serious enough if these tactics were being used by homophobes to silence a gay magazine: but for a powerful gay company like Chronos to be resorting to these depths indicates very strongly that they have something to hide.
We don’t believe that Outcast has done anything wrong. Their articles are checked by David Price (a leading libel lawyer who defended Scallywag magazine against John Major): and they have never been taken to court over any issue in the past. If they are guilty of anything, it is of knowing too much about how the gay establishment works ‘behind the scenes’, and daring to tell their readers the truth about it.
Statement by NetBenefit, 6-April-2000
Outcast, a customer of NetBenefit’s web hosting services, recently claimed that NetBenefit had attempted to censor Outcast. NetBenefit rejects this.
NetBenefit does not censor any web site it hosts. NetBenefit is happy to host a web site such as Outcast – Outcast was accepted as a NetBenefit customer without question. NetBenefit will continue to support customers who seek to use the web to publish their views, whatever views they espouse, provided they keep within the law and do not expose NetBenefit to unacceptable risks which are clearly spelled out in NetBenefit’s terms of business.
NetBenefit has been advised, following the case involving Demon and Laurence Godfrey, that we are obliged to review the content of a web site once we have received a warning that potential defamatory material is expected to appear on it and to act very quickly if potentially defamatory material is found. This applies to all Internet hosting companies operating under English law. We received advice that Outcast actually had on their web site material that was potentially defamatory. NetBenefit had no choice but to take action to avoid an unacceptable risk of being drawn into one or more costly legal disputes which were not of its own making but in which NetBenefit, merely a provider of web space, could be held liable to the same extent as someone who uses that web space to publish a defamatory statement. The Demon case has shown this to be a real risk for providers of web space and ISPs in the UK.
NetBenefit was entitled under the terms of business Outcast accepted, to suspend Outcast’s web site without notice, but instead NetBenefit gave notice before suspending Outcast’s web site and sought strong assurances from Outcast: specifically an assurance from a lawyer about the then current content of the site and Outcast’s assurances about its arrangements for future content. Outcast responded to NetBenefit, acknowledging NetBenefit may be liable for any defamatory content Outcast publishes. Outcast failed to confirm its existing content was not defamatory, and indicated Outcast is not in a position financially to have its content checked by a lawyer but gave no assurance that future content would not be defamatory. Outcast alleged the suspension of their web site was censorship and gave an ultimatum demanding the lifting of the suspension. Outcast’s response therefore contained no assurances whatever and NetBenefit declined to reinstate access to the web space, which Outcast since decided to relocate.
We recognise Outcast is in the business of publishing and so understands these issues. We would invite Outcast to campaign on the real issue: the need for a change in the law to allow Internet hosting companies, like NetBenefit, to provide the service Outcast and others are seeking.