Specter, Lieberman Introduce Free Speech Protection Act

By The International Free Press Society | by Adams
Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 @ 6:13PM

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Washington, D.C. (February 17, 2009)- U.S. Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, have introduced the Free Speech Protection Act (the “Libel Tourism” bill), S. 449. This bill would protect American journalists from libel suits brought in foreign courts that do not have the same protections for free speech that are found in the U.S. constitution.

The Free Speech Protection Act grants federal courts the ability to bar enforcement of foreign libel judgments if the material at issue would not constitute libel under U.S. law. The bill deters “libel tourism” suits filed in foreign courts by permitting American defendants to countersue under certain circumstances.

“Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of expression of ideas, opinions, and research, and freedom of exchange of information are all essential to the functioning of a democracy, and the fight against terrorism,” Senator Specter said. “There is a real danger that American writers and researchers will be afraid to address the crucial subject of terror funding and other important matters without these protections.”

“Supporters of Islamist terror are using foreign courts to silence journalists trying to expose those supporting terrorist networks around the world,” Senator Lieberman said. ”This important bill will protect the Constitutional rights of American journalists so that they can continue their work that is critical to the safety and security of our country.”

Despite the protection for free speech under our own law, the rights of the American public, and of American journalists who share information with the public, are being threatened by the forum shopping of libel suits to foreign courts with less robust protections for free speech. The Free Speech Protection Act creates a federal cause of action and federal jurisdiction so that federal courts may determine whether there has been defamation under U.S. law when a U.S. journalist, speaker, or academic is sued in a foreign court for speech or publication in the United States.

The impetus for this legislation is litigation involving Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a U.S. citizen and Director of the American Center for Democracy. Dr. Ehrenfeld’s 2003 book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, which was published solely in the United States by a U.S. publisher, alleged that a Saudi Arabian subject and his family financially supported Al Qaeda in the years preceding the attacks of September 11. He sued Ehrenfeld for libel in England, although only 23 books were sold there.

The United Kingdom has become a popular venue for defamation plaintiffs from around the world, because under English law it is not necessary for a libel plaintiff to prove falsity or actual malice as is required in the United States. The U.S. journalists or publications who are named as defendants in these suits must deal with the expense, inconvenience and distress of being sued in foreign courts, even though their conduct is protected by the First Amendment in the United States.

U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY) is expected to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

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Categories: Free Speech & Libel Tourism, Supporting Free Speech