McLibel Suit Near End

The contested tract charges the worldwide fast-food empire with destroying rainforests, creating excessive waste, exploiting its workers, being anti-union, deceiving kids, cruelty toward animals and lying about the nutritional value of its food. It taunts the company with references such as "McDollars, McCancer, McTorture, McGarbage" and other plays on its highly protected "Mc" prefix. McDonald's says it was "greatly damaged" by this.As of Nov. 5, 1996, the case entered The Guinness Book of Records as the longest trial of any type in British history. The trial, which began in June 1994, has taken so long due to the nature of English libel law, which requires defendants to disprove each accusation rather than the reverse, which is the case in U.S. jurisprudence.To substantiate the truth of the pamphlet's charges, Morris and Steel have called 180 defense witnesses, including environmental and nutrition experts, trade unionists, animal welfare experts, McDonald's employees, top executives and five infiltrators employed by the company to spy on London Greenpeace, the group whose name is on the pamphlet.McDonald's, which last month added Belarus and Tahiti as the 100th and 101st countries to sport the Golden Arches, has reportedly spent $16 million on the case against defendants whose income, even when working, totals only $10,000.The presiding judge, Justice Rodger Bell, denied the defendants a jury trial, claiming the issues at hand were too complicated for a citizens' panel to understand. He promises a verdict "after March." Armed only with a pencil, the jurist filled endless notebooks with summaries from 40,000 pages of documentary evidence and 20,000 pages of testimony. Justice Bell admitted evaluating the evidence and presenting a verdict will be a daunting task. "It will take me some time to write it," he told the court. "I don't mean to be difficult when I say I don't know when I will deliver it because I don't know."In their final arguments, the McLibel defendants, who are unable to afford counsel and have represented themselves, argued that English libel laws unfairly favor the plaintiff and are used by multinational corporations such as McDonald's to silence their critics. However, the failure of the company to achieve the latter has been monumental. The Columbia Journalism Review called the case "an image-conscious corporation's worst nightmare." What began as charges in a limited-circulation pamphlet has turned into the talk of London and become a worldwide news story. Also, since the trial began, 2 million copies of the pamphlet in question have been distributed in the U.K. alone by the McLibel Support Campaign.Perhaps even worse for Ronald McDonald in the Information Age is a website constructed by other supporters of the defendants at McSpotlight.org, which issues daily trial reports, allows access to all of the testimony plus thousands of related documents and even a guided tour of McDonald's own site.

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