Lost in the Washington bailout frenzy is a worthwhile piece of legislation that stands to bolster protection for media and authors. The Free Speech Protection Act of 2008 was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee. It was approved by the House on September 27 and received by the Senate on Sept. 29. The bill seeks to end the practice of “libel tourism,” in which Americans are sued for libel in foreign countries that do not have the same free speech protection as in the U.S.
Reporters without Borders, Association of American Publishers, American Library Association. and the American Civil Liberties Union support the bill. Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, wrote the following: “At its core, this bill helps the U.S. to stand as a beacon for the preservation of individual free speech rights and encourages other nations to adopt similarly strong standards.”
Shirley & Banister Public Affairs is working on a media campaign on behalf of Rachel Ehrenfeld. She was sued in Britain by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz for claiming that he was tied to the funding of terror groups. Her fight resulted in New York State passing “Rachel’s Law,” which declares that foreign libel judgments don’t hold any water in the Empire State. Ehrenfeld wants Congress to go a step further by allowing Americans to countersue for damages.
A free speech bill vote awaits in the Senate, which vows to take up the bailout of the auto industry on Monday.
Surely, the Senate can spend a fraction of that for a quick vote for the FSPA. It’s a no-brainer and would put that august chamber firmly on the side of freedom of expression. Signing the bill could give President Bush some much needed good PR.