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Internet makes it impossible to stop rumours becoming news

Is the internet killing laws? Stories, or just rumour, surface on the internet and have a global reach within seconds.

Allegations that William Hague had been conducting an inappropriate relationship with one of his advisers first surfaced online.

The internet is not a "law-free zone", media lawyer Mark Stephens said. "But once material is out there, it is very difficult to put it back."

There are increasing numbers of cases that highlight the shortcomings of the law in controlling comment on the internet.

Yesterday, the BBC failed to win an injunction to prevent the name of The Stig from Top Gear being revealed.

"That legal action was a waste of money," Mr Stephens said.

Claims about golfer Tiger Woods were blocked from publication in one country but available elsewhere.

So how should the traditional media respond when stories or rumours seem to be wagging the dog of the news agenda?

Media lawyer Dan Tench said that disseminators of defamatory material on the net can be tracked down.

But three factors made it harder: the international dimension, speed of transmission and anonymity.

The ease of internet comment and lack of control are weaknesses: "People can't rely on it. Traditional media is accountable to the law -- and that is its strength."