Dear Chair Yarborough, Vice Chair Burton, and ranking Sen. Book,
I’m Bobby Block, the executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, which for nearly four decades has worked with this Senate to shape legislation and occasionally voice our opposition.
Today I am here to oppose SB1220.
The bill clearly violates the constitutional standards of the United States, and has negative, long-lasting implications for robust public dialogue across the political spectrum.
While the supporters of this bill claim their intentions are merely to curb the excesses of the liberal corporate media, the main achievement of this bill if it were to become law would not be to stifle the just voices of New York Times reporters but the voices of all your constituents —liberal, moderate and above Christian and conservative.
Last year in this Senate, you passionately argued about working to protect conservatives from being silenced on social media platforms. Right now in Washington, Republicans are fixated on making sure the federal government is not abusing its power to punish conservatives
Yet, here in Florida, lawmakers say they want to “level the playing field” by lowering the bar on defamation lawsuits, and in the process will end up accomplishing that which they say they are fighting against: silencing conservatives —and everyone else for that matter
Last week, James W. Schwartzel the President of Sun Broadcasting, Inc., and the owner of 92.5 FOX News in SW Florida, sent a note to the House, warning that changing the defamation law as currently contemplated “will be the death of conservative talk throughout the State of Florida. … The devastation will be severe and swift. Republicans will lose one of their most prominent platforms to reach their base forever.”
While Schwartzel was specifically referring to the House version of the bill, he also noted that among the provisions that concerned him was that the proposed legislation “also finishes off confidential informants by enforcing the presumption that statements from any anonymous source are false.”
SB1220 would indeed lower the standard of malice in cases where legitimate anonymous sources are cited, a move that impacts not just CNN and the Miami Herald but conservative and Christian media as well. The bill also opens the possibility that there are situations where conservative media from say Pensacola could be sued in liberal south Florida.
Moreover, weakening the actual malice standard would negatively impact those same Conservative and Christian stations that have relied on this standard to protect themselves.
In fact, the actual malice defense is the only thing standing between Fox News and billions in potential damages for their alleged promotion of unproven conspiracy theories about voting machines.
Dissatisfaction and anger with the press has been with us since the founding of the Republic. But by attacking the actual malice standard with this legislation, Florida’s lawmakers risk being the dog that caught the car.
I humbly ask that you carefully reconsider this bill and opt to allow Floridians to enjoy the full range of voices that inform debate in this state.
First Amendment Foundation