Yvonne Roberts: This childish spat raises a vital issue

Share

Gina Ford, "the Queen of Routine", the so called childcare guru and author of The Contented Little Baby, is definitely not a happy bunny. She boasts that as a maternity nurse she has cared for 300 babies in 20 countries. Perhaps because she has spent so much time with infants whose conversation is restricted to burps, farts, sobs and chuckles, she's not had the need to consider the principles attached to the right to freedom of speech. Now's the time she should.

Lawyers for Ms Ford have written to the internet provider of a website called Mumsnet demanding it be closed down for "publishing defamatory statements". Mumsnet provides advice for 60,000 mothers. Members using names such as "gothicmama" take part in a discussion forum, sending anonymous postings. Some of them - tut! tut! - have been extremely rude about Ms Ford, claiming she is unhygenic, cruel and a nursery terrorist. Ms Ford has said she is astonished and hurt by the criticism. "I know what I write is controversial but what surprises me is the vitriolic and personal attacks that people make," she says, clearly not as clued up on the current price of fame as she is on colic.

Justine Roberts, who set up the advice forum with two other mothers six years ago, says Mumsnet has received up to 20 legal letters and e-mails from Ms Ford's lawyers, demanding that derogatory statements be removed and requesting damages. She has tried and failed to satisfy Ms Ford's escalating requests. Members have been ordered not to mention Ms Ford or her methods, "a bit like barring discussion of Manchester United from a football phone-in".

Gina is big business; a Goliath in the nappy world. She earns a fortune telling mothers how to boss their babies into docile submission. Mumsnet, in contrast, struggles for survival and, as a result of Ford's efforts, may now go bust. The internet provider has refused Ms Ford's request, saying, "You would not shut down the BBC because you disagreed with one story." But, her lawyers are unflagging.

A storm in a feeding cup this may seem, but it touches on an issue that matters to us all. It raises the question of whether the present law of libel and defamation is too tough when it comes to the non-commercial side of the internet in which people blog and chat in a cyber-conversation. Does it impose too much of a restriction on a method of communication that - for all its errors and sometimes poisonous fabrications - also brings facts and information that, at best, has the power to revolutionise thoughts and actions?

Under the law of libel, damage to reputation and, therefore, loss of earnings is assumed in what's written or published. The law of slander requires that loss of earnings be proved. It would be healthier for democracy if only the law of slander were applied to websites such as Mumsnet that give its members a voice.

Aussies do it better

Macca offers £10m. Heather is allegedly in pursuit of £200m - presumably calculating that's an awful lot of land mines cleared. Both have now hired lawyers charging £500 an hour.

Welcome to a divorce guaranteed to run longer than Coronation Street - to the detriment of their two-year-old, Beatrice.

What two warring people need least is the legal profession. Last month, Australia introduced a system of family law that recognises the damage lawyers can do: a couple sit in a room with two negotiators, two counsellors and a magistrate, until a deal is done. The result of this in pilot schemes has been reduced animosity and more money left over.

What McCartney and Mills need most isn't high-profile legal teams, it's three months of non-communication to cool down - and a shot of common sense.

* Illiteracy may be an issue but alliteration rules OK in Deborah and Christopher Haine's home. Both, aged 41, elected to call their children, Shlaine and Caine. What they neglected to do - is send them to school.

Magistrates were told the Haines, pictured, had shown "complete disregard" towards Shlaine's school attendance. Aged 14, she and her 12-year-old brother appear rarely in class.

Now, the Haines have been locked up for four months - possibly much to the delight of Shlaine whom, if she is like many teenagers, will say she can't stand the sight of them anyway.

Will it teach the Haines a lesson? Unlikely. Will it improve parent and offspring relationships? Hardly. Is the sentence a deterrent to others? Probably not. So, what has it achieved? A family even more fractured and five minutes of fame for Shlaine and Caine.

A note to the magistrates: must try harder.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi where Mohammad Asghar is being held  

Mohammed Ashgar: A Briton on death row in Pakistan who the Government must act to save

David Morrisey
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs  

When most porn is packaged for men, is it any wonder women get their sexual kicks from erotica?

Justine Elyot
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style