For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, (304) 367-4864,
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has granted journalist Christopher Elliott $2,500 from its Legal Defense Fund to assist him in a libel suit.
Elliott, a travel blogger, has been sued for defamation, false light and tortious interference with contract by the travel company Palm Coast Travel. After an investigation by the State of Florida, Palm Coast Travel in March 2010 agreed to cease and desist selling unauthorized insurance and pay a $2,500 fine as well as restitution to its customers affected by the purchase of an unauthorized insurance policy. It has been placed on 18 months’ probation and has agreed not to sell unauthorized insurance in the future. The agency took issue with a post related to the state’s investigation, which Elliott wrote in March 2009 on his website, www.elliott.org.
The post on Elliott’s site originally stated that the State of Florida had filed a Notice of Intent to Issue a Cease and Desist Order against three travel agencies, including Palm Coast Travel, for selling unauthorized insurance policies. Elliott quoted a spokeswoman for Florida’s Department of Financial Services as saying the state ordered the three agencies to “stop transacting business” and that “they’re on notice that further activity is pending (by the state).” However, the official misinformed Elliott, which was evident by the press release the state disseminated shortly thereafter. The release clarified that the travel agencies would be ordered to “stop selling insurance” as opposed to “stop transacting business.” Elliott modified his original post the following day with a clarification and the statement, “I’ve updated the post to reflect that new information, and I apologize for any resulting confusion.”
Despite the clarification, Palm Coast Travel sued Elliott.
The SPJ Legal Defense Fund Committee and the SPJ Board of Directors voted to support Elliott, who is National Geographic Traveler’s ombudsman, is a syndicated columnist through Tribune Media Services, and is a columnist for MSNBC.com and The Washington Post. Elliott’s biography is available on his website along with posts related to the lawsuit.
Mr. Elliott is represented by Gregory Herbert of the Orlando office of the national law firm Greenberg Traurig. Herbert focuses on First Amendment and intellectual property law, and has handled many similar cases.
"Often, when someone gets caught violating the law, they try to limit bad publicity and stifle a free press by suing a blogger who simply reports the story. That tactic often backfires, as we believe it will in this case," Herbert said. "Grants from organizations like SPJ are an important means of furthering a free press, because these lawsuits are all about wearing bloggers down financially."
The SPJ Legal Defense Fund aids journalists in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment. Grant money can also be used to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings. For more information about the SPJ Legal Defense Fund visit www.spj.org/ldf.asp.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.