A panel on 3 October 2019 at the Heritage Foundation heard contrasting views on whether libel laws in the United States should be made more restrictive.

In his opening remarks, David Azerrad, Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics and AWC Family Foundation Fellow stated that “There is a tendency in the media to equate criticism of the press, however well-founded, with an attack on the freedom of the press itself.” Noting that there are limits on the freedom of the press, just as there are limits on freedom of speech more generally, he went on to add that “The press is responsible for what it says, especially if it defames an individual.”

Arthur Milikh, Associate Director and Research Fellow, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics, in his opening remarks made the case that a free press is critical to both republican government and political liberty.

The press’s behaviour over the past several years is driving people away from it, and creating great distrust it is losing its saluatory effects on society. The 2016 presidential election, for example, was a shocking moment, when many Americans witnessed much of the press doing all in its power to select a President on behalf of the American people.

In summing up, he added:

Regrettably, in our time, there’s now a movement to shut down the freedom of speech on the internet, which contains many news outlets which counterbalance the power of a united press.

Elizabeth Locke, Partner, Clare Locke LLP argued that New York Times v. Sullivan set too high a bar for libel in US law.

Where did the Supreme Court come up with this onerous standard? It wasn’t the First Amendment. There’s simply nothing in the First Amendment’s history, text or structure that warrants the imposition of the Sullivan ‘actual malice standard’. The constitutional basis for the Sullivan decision is extremely suspect.

Lee Levine, Senior Counsel, Ballard Spahr LLP argued against restraints on the press on the basis of “history, reality, and constitutional law”.

Point to the hypocrisy behind much efforts to restrain press freedom, he stated “I’m not aware of a single politician who doesn’t think the press ought to be restrained when it is critical of him, just as I unaware of a politician who doesn’t champion the freedom of the press to criticise her opponents.”

The full discussion is available here:

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