The Society of Professional Journalists called on Senate leaders June
24 to quickly pass an anti-libel tourism bill introduced this week.
Libel tourism is the practice of suing U.S. journalists in foreign
courts where there is less press freedom than they are afforded by the
First Amendment in the U.S. While it is primarily a print issue, the
Islamic Society of Boston sued both the Boston Herald and a local Fox TV
station in 2006 for alleging its ties with terrorism. It eventually
dropped the case.
The bipartisan SPEECH (Securing the Protection
of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage) Act,
co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy
(D-Vt.) and ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), would prevent foreign
libel judgments from being enforced in the U.S. if defamation laws
there were in conflict with constitutional protections here. It also
allows for a separate declaratory judgment procedures for journalists
and authors who want to make the first move by establishing that a
foreign judgment would not be enforced even if no foreign party has
attempted to do so.
"We cannot legislate changes in foreign law
to emulate American constitutional standards, but we can ensure that our
courts do not become a tool to uphold foreign libel judgments that
undermine our First Amendment or due process rights," said Leahy in
announcing the bill.
"The protection for journalists, authors
and publishers from foreign libel suits that don't hold America's
standards for free speech and press is greatly welcomed," said SPJ
President Kevin Z. Smith in a statement. "We applaud the Senate's work
on this legislation. We have long endorsed this protection and we are
delighted that this protective shield is making its way into federal
TheHouse Judiciary Committee passed a similar bill last year.
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