Alan Rusbridger, who edits the British Guardian, thinks fear of libel lawsuits from big corporations may have contributed to journalists' failure to adequately report on the dangerous economic decisions that led to the recent implosion of the global financial system. In an article for the New York Review of Books, he recounts his own paper's "most recent serious brush with the British defamation laws" earlier this year when it was sued for libel by Tesco, one of the largest public companies in Britain and the fourth-largest retailer in the world.
The case centered around a report in the Guardian in which Rusbridger admits that the newspaper got some of its facts wrong. It reported correctly that Tesco was using complex financial deals to avoid paying taxes, but its reporters misunderstood the particulars of the arrangement, and "the sums avoided were much less than we had supposed."
The ensuing libel lawsuit from Tesco consumed more than a million dollars in legal fees, and threatened to go to millions more before it was settled out of court.