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Monday, July 26, 2010

U.S. Senate passes 'libel tourism' bill - Blog - Committee to Protect Journalists

U.S. Senate passes 'libel tourism' bill - Blog - Committee to Protect Journalists

This week, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill shielding journalists and publishers from “libel tourism.” The vote on Monday slipped past the Washington press corps largely unnoticed. Maybe it was the title that strove chunkily for a memorable acronym: the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act. Journalists and press freedom defenders outside the United States did, however, pay attention to the legislation, which they hope will spur libel law reform in their countries.

The bill, which is expected to sail through the House of Representatives and become law soon, protects U.S. journalists and writers from libel suits filed by repressive governments or wealthy tycoons in foreign jurisdictions such as England, where the law is heavily skewed in favor of the plaintiff. I wrote about the practice, known as libel tourism, last year.

Ehrenfeld's book sparked a libel tourism action.
The Senate vote comes after a long campaign by Israeli-American author Rachel Ehrenfeld who found herself slapped with a multi-million-dollar defamation suit by a Saudi billionaire she accused of funding terrorist groups. No problem, you’d think, if the suit was filed in a U.S. court, where the Saudi financier would have to prove Ehrenfeld’s material was false. But this action was brought in London, the libel tourism capital of the world, where the court would demand that Ehrenfeld prove her accusations were true.

Under the new U.S. law any such libel tourism judgment will be unenforceable in the United States. “This will make a difference in how other countries, people in other countries will look into suing Americans,” Ehrenfeld told CPJ. “It’s a victory for everybody who writes in America.”

It’s also a weapon for libel reform advocates overseas.

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