'Libel For Profit' Bill Proposed p. 20

By: Editorial Staff AFTER FAILING LAST year to pass a "libel for profit" bill with criminal penalties, the California Senate majority leader is trying again with a softer version involving no jail time but with heavy dollar damages.
The 1996 measure by Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Montebello) would have imposed imprisonment for parties found to have purchased libelous material. It was defeated on the assembly floor by 16 votes short of the required 41-vote majority, amid strong opposition by the news media, movie producers, unions, prosecutors and civil libertarians. One of its opponents was the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
Calderon's new bill, SB 1252, which is backed by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), eliminates jail sentences, but violators would be subject to punitive damages ranging from $100,000 to $10 million.
Current state law disallows general and punitive damages when a libel retraction is demanded and printed. Calderon's bill would waive the exemption to punitive damages when the defendant is found to have paid for defamatory material in reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.
The bill's supporters claim it is needed to punish tabloid newspapers that allegedly print malicious lies about film stars and other celebrities. Among those lobbying for the original bill were a number of movie actors including Steven Seagal, Paul Reiser and SAG President Richard Masur.
CNPA general counsel Tom Newton told E&P that,"From a political standpoint, more legislators are likely to vote for the new version as being more palatable, but as far as we're concerned, it is still a horrible bill and we will fight to defeat it.
# Editor & Publisher n April 5, 1997


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