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SPJ applauds efforts of Congress to address libel tourism


For Immediate Release:

Dave Aeikens, SPJ President, (320) 255-8744,
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211, sleadingham@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists are encouraged that Congress is taking up the important issue of libel tourism, the trend of foreign litigants suing U.S. journalists and authors in other countries with less substantive freedoms than the First Amendment provides.

Libel tourism, a form of forum shopping, has become a concern in recent years because of numerous high-profile libel cases brought in England by plaintiffs seeking to take advantage of the country’s loose legal requirements for proving their claims.

“This is a serious issue that demands serious attention,” SPJ president Dave Aeikens said. “The First Amendment exists to protect citizens from attacks on expression and speech. The issue has moved overseas. That’s why it’s so important for Congress to address this problem head on.”

In response to the concerns of First Amendment advocates, Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., Joe Lieberman, Ind-D-Conn., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Peter King, R-N.Y., led efforts in the previous session of Congress to pass legislation that would protect U.S. citizens from such international claims.

The pressing need for a solution to libel tourism is being re-examined this week by the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law. A hearing, scheduled for 11 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 12, will feature the testimony of Bruce Brown, a long-time media law lawyer and SPJ’s legal counsel. Brown is the co-author of a January 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed that reviewed the shortcomings of the Congress’ previous attempts to limit libel tourism. Read the op-ed here.

SPJ is optimistic that Congress is taking steps in the right direction to address this potentially chilling trend on constitutional liberties.

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.


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