SPJ joins amicus brief in Penn. libel case
For Immediate Release:
Hagit Limor, SPJ President, (513) 852-4012,
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief seeking to uphold a Pennsylvania libel statute and protect journalists from defamation claims years after online publication.
In the case Wolk v. Olson, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will address whether the state’s discovery rule can be applied to override Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations on libel suits.
Last year, Arthur Wolk, a prominent aviation lawyer and pilot, Googled his name and stumbled on a 2007 blog posting on Overlawyered.com that criticized his handling of a case in Georgia. Wolk filed a complaint for defamation against the site’s publisher, Walter Olson.
To avoid the state statute of limitations, Wolk argued to apply Pennsylvania’s discovery rule, which in some cases allows a plaintiff to bring a lawsuit within one year of when a defamatory statement is “discovered” rather than when it is published. A majority of states do not allow the use of the discovery rule in defamation suits based on articles published in the mass media because such publications are immediately available to plaintiffs.
A federal trial court, applying the long-standing libel claim statute, granted a motion by Olson to dismiss the libel suit. The court held that it would not apply the discovery rule over the statute of limitations in a mass-media defamation case involving a blog, which is included as a form of “mass media.”
The amicus brief, authored by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argues that blogs deserve the same protection given to other mass media that are not subject to the discovery rule. The brief also argues that the public policy behind the First Amendment calls for very limited statutes of limitation and suggests against the use of the discovery rule to defamation actions arising from mass media publications.
"Given the massive volume of stories any reporter produces in any given year, the implications of trying to find years-old notes that may no longer be available due to storage issues would make a defense difficult, if not impossible," SPJ President Hagit Limor said.
In one of its roles as a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases. Most recently, SPJ joined a brief in a New Jersey shield law case.
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.