The boss IM’d me last night to point out this teaser on Drudge:


A few hours later, it was gone. No explanation, no link. Nada.

Now I know why:

In a rare move, a story at the top of The New York Times this morning does not appear on its Web site…

A note inside the paper on the jump page, A8, reads: “Publication of this article on has been delayed temporarily on the advice of legal counsel… This arises from British laws that prohibit publication of the information that could be deemed prejudicial to defendants charged with a crime.”

SeeDubya called this a week ago, although neither he nor anyone else that I noticed foresaw British press gags on matters sub judice spilling over across the pond. Obviously the Times figured that posting the article on the ‘Net, where it could be accessed by British readers, would place their UK bureau at risk for a contempt charge. So they did the prudent thing and pulled it — with the net result that British law has determined what Americans can read online.

The irony? This wouldn’t have happened if Britain weren’t a liberal democracy. Authoritarian states don’t limit themselves to fines, which punish but don’t prevent the spread of undesirable information. If the Brits are serious about this, the obvious solution would be to follow the Chinese and Iranian example and deal with this on their end by creating a national firewall. But of course they’re not going to do that, precisely because they don’t want to look like China or Iran. Which leaves them with two choices: either relax their laws governing matters sub judice or stick with the fines and end up basically exporting their free-speech jurisprudence to other jurisdictions by forcing foreign online media outlets that do business in the UK to conform to it.

It’s not a huge deal; it’s only one story, albeit an important one, and it’s available in the print edition if you want to fork over the buck. But as more people get their news online and the Chinese and Arab media markets become more lucrative, there’s going to be more pressure on U.S. outlets either to play by their rules or be shut out. (And there’s already plenty.) Scary thought.

Update: Alphabet City e-mails to say that the article has been online for the past several hours, and that the Times has a report out today describing the controversy over the British sub judice limitation. Here’s how they shut off access to the UK while preserving it in the U.S.:

Richard J. Meislin, the paper’s associate managing editor for Internet publishing, said the technological hurdle was surmounted by using some of The Times’s Web advertising technology. The paper could already discern the Internet address of users connecting to the site to deliver targeted marketing, and could therefore deliver targeted editorial content as well. That took several hours of programming.

“It’s never a happy choice to deny any reader a story,” said Jill Abramson, a managing editor at The Times. “But this was preferable to not having it on the Web at all.”