Top critical review
A must watch, that leaves you half full.
on 21 February 2014
This is a story that should but studied by both political activists and corporations alike.
What most surprised me wasn't that a couple of stubborn Brits stood up to the Mighty Clown, after all that's what we like to do most as a nation. No, what was surprising was just how utterly stupid McDonald's were in pursuing the case and refusing to drop it as it soon became obvious early on that it could only ever end in tears for them. Not even the most naive judge was ever going to be convinced by ridiculous claims that McFood was a healthy diet and that McAdvertising was not aimed at exploiting children. The company also lost on cruelty to animals and on appeal to cruelty to their own workers as well.
As individuals the two protesters are not endearing, nor is all the language and tone of their leaflets to be applauded. Both of these factors seriously upset the egos of McDonald's executives, so that like mad dictators they would stop at nothing to try and silence them.
In the two documentaries the defendants try to come across as calm and rational, but since they were also the producers of this DVD there is a lack of independent objective viewpoints that I would have liked to have seen. To be fair this is not entirely their fault, as included in the extras is documentary evidence that they made repeated attempts to interest the BBC and C4 in making a production, and were rejected. They argue that these rejections were because the TV execs were scared of McDonalds, but any fair minded person should also consider the obvious difficulties of dealing with such awkward political extremists as well.
The second documentary includes most of the footage of the first. In my opinion you lose almost nothing by watching just the second documentary and some of the extras. The extras are important because they give you a somewhat better idea of what kind of people the defendants are. There are are key questions that they do not answer in their story. For example, no evidence is provided of them attempting to involve the relevant British authorities when challenging McDonald's dishonest literature. Given that I think it is right to ask whether these two, in common with most Green Peace activists, always had some desire to flirt with martyrdom. They claim not, but I tend not to believe them. In the extras there is an interview with US authorities, who did challenge McDonald's misleading advertising, so there would have been a successful precedence for them to follow in the U.K.
I think that it is fair to say that the outcome of this case was and continues to be seriously damaging to McDonalds. What I don't accept is their narrative that it has had much positive effect on the rest of the corporate world. McDonalds were the exception in trying to exploit Britain's unbalanced libel laws against anyone and everyone. Since McLibel corporations and wealthy individuals have flooded the courts with ever more libel suits, injunctions and super-injunctions, to try and suppress the truth and accusations being published.
In terms of libel law there were no new precedents set, except that the European Court ruled that the defendants had not received fair treatment by the British legal process. Since that seemed to be because of the decisions made by an individual judge on this specific case, it isn't clear quite what that means for future cases.
Despite the European court ruling I am not convinced that the defendants were as disadvantaged as they claim to have been. If they had evidence to back up their statements as being fair and true, then their defence would have been straightforward to win in front of either judge or jury, without the need of expensive counsel. I know this because during the same period I as an individual took on electronics giant VTech and won without much difficulty (Vtech abandoned UK PC sales shortly after). The problem for the defendants was that they were arguing for the right to publish anything that they believed to be true, not just what they had solid evidence for. They also rightly lost on their accusation that McDonalds should be blamed for the littering done by their customers, on the grounds of fairness (when perhaps they should have been complaining about excessive and environmentally harmful packaging).
Both parties claim to have won, but in truth I think both parties lost on their most important issue. Ironically they both wanted the same thing; the right to publish whatever they liked free of consequences. Under U.K. law there is no such right, nor I believe will there ever be. In practice the campaigners have been able ignore the libel judgement, because McDonald's fear turning them into genuine political martyrs, by having them imprisoned for non-payment. It is not all in their favour though, because the two campaigners have been exposed as not being entirely fair and credible in their claims, which is very important as it effects the future credibility of all their literature.