Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on defamation bills proposed Thursday in the Florida Legislature, arguing for adjustment on anonymous sources protections and libel laws.
During a press conference, the Republican governor received pushback from local media who voiced concerns that the proposed defamation legislation would "chill free speech" and "encourage frivolous lawsuits."
"Well, I think what the bill is doing now is basically saying that if somebody is defamed, ... [and] they're using anonymous sources, then that can be a presumption that that was done with malice," DeSantis replied. "Because if not, then there's no way you could ever have a defamation action.
"I think what's happened is ... particularly corporate media outlets have relied on anonymous sources to smear people," he continued. "And I just think that that's something that is fundamentally wrong."
His comments arrive in the backdrop of Republican state Rep. Alex Andrade proposing HB 991, seeking to eliminate the actual malice requirement necessary to sue media outlets.
The prosecutorial obligation to demonstrate actual malice for public officials and political candidates was laid out in the Supreme Court's 1964 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan decision.
Another bill, by Republican state Sen. Jason Brodeur, SB 1220, would clarify that journalistic privilege does not extend to defamation or libel cases and that the negligence standard could apply when a source is unprovided.
"This bill attempts to put some guardrails on that so somebody who knowingly or falsely claims, or fails to exercise a certain amount of care, can be held liable for damage caused to people," Brodeur stated. "We all know you cannot yell 'fire' in a crowded theater and claim that's free speech."
DeSantis hinted that legislation reforming Florida's defamation law would be coming soon last month, telling his supporters to "stay tuned" during a roundtable discussion with legal experts, victims of defamation, and a journalist in Hialeah Gardens.
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