Miami (March 3, 2023) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has asked a state congress member in the United States to withdraw a bill allowing politicians to sue media outlets and journalists, which could have negative consequences for press freedom internationally.
The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Carlos Jornet, said in a letter to Republican Representative Robert Alexander Andrade that if bill HB 991 passed, it would represent a setback for press freedom in those countries that have adopted the doctrine of actual malice, First Amendment principles in their constitutions and laws that allow judges to dismiss frivolous lawsuits filed with the intention of intimidating journalism and the press.
Introduced in late February before the Florida Legislature, the bill makes it easier for political leaders and others to sue the media and journalists for defamation. The initiative has the support of the Governor of Florida and possible candidate for the U.S. Presidency in 2024, Ron DeSantis, who maintains a contentious relationship with the traditional media in Florida and the U.S., which he describes as leftist and biased.
Jornet, the editor of the Argentine daily La Voz del Interior, stressed in his letter that the future law contradicts principles on freedom press at the state, national and international levels. He added the initiative would nullify the actual malice doctrine that has protected independent journalism since the New York Times vs. Sullivan Supreme Court decision in 1964. In addition, it would reverse the benefits of Florida's anti-SLAPP law, allowing judges to throw out costly and unsubstantiated lawsuits intended to intimidate and silence the media and critics.
Jornet warned that the law would become "a protective shield for public servants" and would have "a devastating effect on investigative journalism and its information sources, contrary to the oversight role of the media in a democracy and to the principles of transparency in public affairs."
IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.