Since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has held office in the Sunshine State, it has seemed that the state has taken a refreshing step towards ending censorship and promoting free speech, with the passage of laws protecting academic freedom and preventing Big Tech to censor conservative speech online. A bill recently introduced in the Florida legislature threatens to undo all the good work the state has accomplished and place conservative media publications in danger.
HB991, officially titled, “Defamation, False Light, and Unauthorized Publication of Name or Likenesses,” was introduced as a way to open access to the courts for defamation claimants who might not otherwise be able to afford to hire lawyers to defend their reputation. While this is a great goal, the proposed law decisively misses the mark.
Florida originally enacted its anti-SLAPP statute in 2000 and later expanded it in 2015. “SLAPP” is an acronym meaning Strategic Lawsuit Against Public. These sorts of lawsuits are usually filed by a well-heeled plaintiff against a defendant with the goal of using the cost of hiring an attorney and litigating the case to intimidating a defendant. Often, those plaintiffs are Hollywood celebrities, democrat politicians, and radical leftist groups.
Florida’s existing anti-SLAPP law corrects this imbalance by giving defendants a necessary tool to defend themselves against these types of baseless legal actions and recover their legal fees. In this way, the law discourages plaintiffs from bringing frivolous lawsuits in the first place and safeguards free speech from people that might want to bully and intimidate them. Conservative media organizations like Fox News and Newsmax have both used anti-SLAPP statutes to defend themselves in court before in response to frivolous lawsuits seeking to bankrupt them.
Florida’s proposed law would gut the state’s anti-SLAPP statute and remove the only positive aspect of the law, the ability of a defendant to recover their legal costs from the plaintiff.
Without this ability, a defendant would still have to foot their attorneys’ bills even if they win. The result of repealing these protections will ultimately harm all conservative media organizations, especially the ones that stick up for conservative rights and tell the truth to the American public.
There’s another hitch in Florida’s proposed law that will ultimately harm conservative media organizations. Ordinarily, a plaintiff can only file a lawsuit where either the plaintiff or defendant lives. The proposed bill would change that and allow a defamation lawsuit to be filed against a media outlet in any court in Florida. While Governor DeSantis has so far done a good job at fighting radical leftist judges throughout the state, some counties in Florida remain safe spaces for liberal judges who rule however they want. Knowing that, a plaintiff could choose a liberal county in Florida to file their lawsuit against a conservative media outlet, and any chance to have a fair trial would be lost.
If HB991 is passed, there is no doubt that conservative media outlets will suffer. Instead of being a tool to help Floridians fight fake news and harassment, there is no doubt that the law will be used to try and take down the only remaining sources of truth-telling free speech in our country, conservative media.