In conducting further research on the topic of media law, I’ve decided to narrow my subject down to anti-SLAPP law, for the time being.
“SLAPP” stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” This phrase refers to situations in which often wealthy people in positions of power use lawsuits to quiet others that may not have the financial means to go to court as often as a person with a vast amount of money. After all, lawsuits are expensive, take up a lot of time, and even if the defendant in this scenario is able to come out successful, they’ve still wasted an extensive amount of energy and cash in taking on the plaintiff.
Anti-SLAPP laws exist to protect against these cases. If a court passes an anti-SLAPP motion, the benefits include freezing discovery, getting rid of the case early/the case becoming immediately appealable, as well as the defendant recovering attorney fees and costs.
I’ve decided to shine a light on SLAPP scenarios, because only certain states have anti-SLAPP legislation in place, despite the necessity of such law in order to protect the First Amendment and free speech throughout the U.S.
In an article in The Daily Transcript, my Advanced Media Law professor, Selina MacLaren, writes about the history of SLAPPs and how defamation lawsuits have been used to silence the public. She writes, “Traditionally, the point of a SLAPP suit has been to stretch thin the speaker’s time and money and thereby silence the speech. But there is often a second driver behind some SLAPP suits: bullying the speaker. Some lawsuits are driven not by a desire to protect reputation by indirectly chilling speech, but rather to promote reputation by intimidating the speaker and wearing them down by the cost of litigation.”
From research, one can conclude that scholars all agree SLAPP scenarios are incredibly negative to upholding our freedom and democracy. Another thing I’ve noticed from my studies on the subject thus far, though, also include that most (if not all) scholars believe that a federal anti-SLAPP law should exist.
Kimberly Chow of The News Media and the Law explains, “A federal anti-SLAPP bill would fill current gaps in protection by providing a uniform defense against SLAPP suits nationwide, addressing the problems of some courts not applying state anti-SLAPP laws in federal court and other states not having anti-SLAPP legislation at all. The SPEAK FREE Act is largely based on the strong anti-SLAPP laws of Texas and California. While some worry that the ease with which defendants can remove actions to federal court would be a burden on the federal court system, proponents of the law argue that the burden will be minimal and that the removal provision is critical to the law’s effectiveness.”
Stephen Gillers, author of Journalism Under Fire : Protecting the Future of Investigative Reporting, also argues for a national anti-SLAPP to protect American media organizations.
Other scholars, including Sharon Docter in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, argue that this sort of shield law (a law protecting a reporter’s privilege) should extend to non-journalists, particularly bloggers, whose work may not be as credible as it would be coming from an established media organization, but the content still functions as news to public audiences. While my other sources tend to focus on the effects SLAPPs have on journalists/news organization, I would still like to recognize that the term ‘journalist’ is broad and may be applicable to anyone that publishes newsworthy content of public concern.
Additionally, some researchers of media law, such as Steven D. Zansberg, even plead readers to become involved and reach out to support anti-SLAPP legislation. Zansberg writes, “Because it is in the interest of all citizens, as well as the news media serving them, to have a fast, efficient, and effective means to dispose of vexatious and costly claims to avoid chilling public debate that is “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open”–I encourage you to contact your congressional delegation and to exercise your free speech rights (including on editorial pages) to urge support for anti-SLAPP legislation.”
Zansberg wrote and published this article (“Support anti-SLAPP legislation”) in 2013. It is now 2020, yet there is no federal anti-SLAPP law in place yet.
Why not? Through this assignment, I intend on discussing and discovering just that.