By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
The goal is to provide a means to settle defamation actions without going to court sp.
THE UNIFORM CORRECTION or Clarification of Defamation Act has been introduced in Washington, D.C.
Submitted by Judiciary Committee chairman William P. Lightfoot, the bill before the D.C. council is similar to the act passed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1993 (E&P, Sept. 4, 1993, P. 12).
The UCCDA strives to provide a means to settle defamation actions without going to court.
Defamation cases today “are very risky and very expensive for both sides,” noted Harvey S. Perlman, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Law and chair of the Uniform Law Commissioners (ULC) committee that drafted the act.
Although somewhat more complex, the act basically provides plaintiffs and defendants with the incentives to correct or clarify untrue or defamatory statements in a timely fashion.
The act applies to “all publications, including writings, broadcasts, oral communications, electronic transmissions, or other forms of transmitting information.”
Testifying at the D.C. council committee hearing on the bill, Perlman urged the legislators to adopt the bill without nonuniform amendments.
“The retention of the uniform nature of this act is particularly important,” he stated. “Because it regulates the activities of news media that publish on a national and regional basis, the efficiencies of uniformity are clear.”
The “entire thrust of the Uniform Act is to provide the truly aggrieved plaintiff a direct and effective remedy ? the restoration of his or her reputation by securing a correction of the falsehood from the publisher,” Perlman explained.
“By providing both parties a mechanism to resolve their disputes without the need to pursue costly and risky damage remedy to its conclusion, we believe both parties will be better off,” he added.
“I believe,” Perlman testified, “the act preserves our traditional commitment to the First Amendment values inherent in free speech and yet provides a remedy for those whose reputations are placed in jeopardy.”
Also speaking at the hearing were D.C. lawyer and uniform law commissioner Benny L. Kass and former adviser Kevin T. Baine of the American Bar Association.
Although they did not testify, a number of local media outlets sent a letter to Lightfoot supporting the bill, “because it is a balanced bill which will serve the public interest both from the standpoint of litigants and the court system.”
Signing the letter were representatives from the Afro-American Newspapers; Washington Blade; Washington City Paper; Washington Informer; Carroll Publishing Co., the Catholic Standard and El Pregonero; Washington Post; Fox Television Stations, WTTG-TV, Fox Channel 5; the National Broadcasting Co., WRC-TV, NBC Channel 4; Gannett Co. Inc. and WUSA-TV, Channel 9; and Allbritton Communications/ALLNEWSCO, Inc., WJLA-TV, Channel 7, NewsChannel 8.
The bill is expected to be reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee and may be considered by the entire council this fall.
Earlier this year, the North Dakota legislature passed its version of the UCCDA, again, as is the whole idea, with language similar to the original and others around the country.
This fall, when the state assemblies are back in session, the measure is expected to be addressed in New Mexico, Delaware and Minnesota.
It took the ULC years to hammer out a draft of the act that was not vehemently opposed by media groups.
The act first was called the Uniform Defamation Act and included provisions for vindication that were called “truth trials” by some observers (E&P, Oct. 24, 1992, P. 18).
Following a public hearing in Washington, D.C., additional drafts of the act were proposed. It was not until the final draft that media representatives dropped their opposition (E&P, Sept. 4, 1993, P. 12).