By Kim Bullimore
More than 100 screenings of a controversial documentary on the British "McLibel" case occurred around the world on January 12, to coincide with the beginning of the McLibel court appeal in Britain.
The film was screened in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, France, Hungary, Peru, Turkey, Britain and the USA. It was shown in cinemas, bookshops, cafes, community centres and on the internet.
The original McLibel case is the longest in British history, lasting 314 days. Activists David Morris and Helen Steele were taken to court by fast food giant McDonald's for handing out leaflets titled "What's wrong with McDonald's".
Despite being denied legal aid, and acting in their own defence against McDonald's highly paid and highly experienced legal team, they were vindicated on a number of the points raised in the leaflet.
The presiding judge (there was no jury) ruled that "various of McDonald's advertisements, promotions and booklets have pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food did not match".
He further ruled that McDonald's "exploited children" with its advertising strategy and the company is "culpably responsible for animal cruelty". Despite this, the judge still awarded £60,000 in damages because Morris and Steel had not proven other assertions in the leaflet.
The McLibel appeal will argue that the findings against McDonald's core business practices were so damaging that the corporation's claim for libel should have been thrown out and that parts of the verdict (against Morris and Steele) were found on the basis of "extreme and unnatural" interpretations of the fact sheet.
Morris and Steele will also argue that in order to protect the public's right to scrutinise and criticise companies whose business practices may affect their lives, health and environment, multinational corporations should no longer be able to sue for libel.
The film, McLibel: Two Worlds Collide will be shown in Canberra by community radio station 2XX on February 2. Phone Tristan for tickets on 6249 4512 or e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Organisers urge people to book early, because the January 12 showing was sold out and people had to be turned away.
More than 20,000 files on the McLibel case can be accessed at McSpotlight <http://www.mcspotlight.org>.