American Bar Association approves libel act
MISSOURI — The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates approved the Uniform Correction or Clarification of Defamation Act by a vote of 176-130 in early February.
The proposed law was passed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in early August. The conference decided to await the clout of ABA approval before starting in earnest its campaign to persuade state legislatures to pass the law, said Debra Perelman, the conference’s legislative counsel.
Rejection by the ABA, Perelman said, would have been “detrimental to our process.”
The proposed law would require potential defamation plaintiffs to request a correction or clarification from the media before filing suit. If a media entity makes the correction or clarification, then a plaintiff could “recover only provable economic loss caused by the [defamation], as mitigated by the correction or clarification.” The plaintiff could not win presumed or punitive damages.
The conference will push the act in the 1995 session of state legislatures, Perelman said. The conference has assured media organizations that it will establish an oversight committee to encourage the legislatures to pass the act without adding amendments to favor libel plaintiffs.
The proposed correction or clarification law evolved from a proposed “Uniform Defamation Act,” which would have established a new legal action to adjudicate the truth of statements. Media groups bitterly opposed the defamation act; they did not actively oppose the correction or clarification act.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has expressed concern that the proposed law might prompt the media to publish spurious “corrections” too hastily to avoid a suit, and might encourage management to pressure reporters to reveal their sources.
(Uniform Correction or Clarification of Defamation Act)