Editorial: Media laws

The Durango Herald: It is sometimes fun to pretend we can take our problems to James Madison, who brought forth the Bill of Rights, and say, “James, the president is calling the press the enemy of the people again,” or, “Jimmy, now people are being sued for voicing their opinions.” What is fun about this, for us, is that we imagine him giving the same answer every time: “We gave you the First Amendment!”

The Colorado Legislature saw fit to bolster it this session by passing two house bills, “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP) and “Media Literacy.” Both are on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk now. “I am not aware of any problems with those bills that would prevent them from getting my signature,” Polis told the Herald editorial board last week.

The first bill is aimed at curbing such SLAPP suits. Typically, a political advocate takes aim at, say, a corporation, accusing it of wrongdoing. The corporation, in our example, then sues the critic, to silence her. The new law means the defendant can avail herself of an expedited court process in which she tries to get the case dismissed on the grounds that it arose from exercising her First Amendment rights. In practice, it seems likely to benefit environmental advocates who criticize industry practices, but if the Sierra Club or the Humane Society wanted to sue to silence a proponent of fracking or puppy mills, it ought to work the same way.

If this is balancing the scales, let us have more of it.

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