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Conservative group opposes media defamation bill

Published on February 7, 2024 at 11:08 am

Legislation loosening Florida’s defamation standards is getting opposition from a prominent conservative group.

The proposal, HB 757, will allow journalists to get sued if they publish false information from a single anonymous source. This is the second year the legislature has tried to pass a bill loosening defamation standards.

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The bill has garnered steep opposition from progressive and First Amendment advocacy groups, but the prominent conservative organization Americans for Prosperity has also come out against it.

Chris Stranburg works with the group. He thinks the bill opens the state up to out-of-state civil filings and violations of Supreme Court First Amendment precedent.

“By creating an objective test that says actual malice is going to be presumed here, you are going against that and risking having this law being struck down as unconstitutional,” he said.

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But the court’s stance on defamation could change. Three current U.S. Supreme Court justices have said they think existing defamation standards applied to the media are too broad.

Opponents of the bill are standing behind calls to protect the First Amendment. Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said she opposes the bill even though she has been the subject of harmful, anonymously sourced statements from political blogs.

“I have to side with my First Amendment advocates on this. I think it’s really important to preserve the ability of people to do that, even as much as it irritates me. I think it is important that we respect the constitution and allow there to be that freedom of expression,” she said.

Pensacola Republican Rep. Alex Andrade says his bill will not infringe on people’s right to express opinions. He says the goal is to provide more redress when people publish false statements.

“You’re entitled to really ignorant opinions. What you are not entitled to do, what this bill does not change, is the fact that when someone makes a false statement of fact, to harm your reputation, you should be able to seek redress in courts because you have suffered actual damages,” he said.

The bill has currently been receiving support in committee along party lines.

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author image Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local Panhandle political happenings. Before joining the WFSU team, Tristan spent three years covering the legislature with outlets including Florida Politics, City & State Florida and Fresh Take Florida.
author image Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local Panhandle political happenings. Before joining the WFSU team, Tristan spent three years covering the legislature with outlets including Florida Politics, City & State Florida and Fresh Take Florida.