Jim Dolan’s Lawsuit Highlights Need For Federal Anti-SLAPP Law

A recent defamation suit by Jim Dolan, the reportedly taciturn New York owner of the Knicks, Cablevision and Madison Square Gardens, illustrates the true chill that SLAPPs have on speech and, as Mike Masnick at Techdirt points out, highlights the need for a federal anti-SLAPP law.

In 2006, a reporter and then co-publisher of Cityfile, an NYC blog,wrote a column about circulating rumors that Dolan planned to make changes to the Christmas pageantry at Madison Square Garden’s Radio City Music Hall, including possibly eliminating the iconic Rockettes. Rather than set the story straight – perhaps in one of the media outlets he owns – Dolan sued the reporter, editor, and Cityfile itself for defamation in New York Court.

Although Dolan’s defamation case looks weak at best – as Arther Bright at CMLP notes, “any decent First Amendment lawyer could have gotten this lawsuit thrown out of court,” Cityfile settled the case, agreeing to print a retraction of the story.

Which is exactly why anti-SLAPP laws are so important. The subject matter of this story — the continued survival of the Rockettes — may not have been of paramount importance, but as Bright says, “Anti-SLAPP laws should protect reporting on and discussion of matters of legitimate public interest, including major cultural icons like the Rockettes.”

Newspapers, television stations and, increasingly, individual bloggers and citizen journalists, are disseminating information that the public should have access to – about health, safety, and environmental, economic and community well-being. When faced with a lawsuit by the owner of the NY Knicks, how many of these smaller outlets and individuals, and perhaps even larger entities, would choose to fight out a lawsuit in court?

How many more would apologize and allow their message to be silenced, retracted or corrected?

SLAPPs don’t just punish those who speak out – they silence speech. As Mike Masnick notes, the Jim Dolan lawsuit is a sterling example of the need not just for stronger anti-SLAPP laws in the states, but for federal anti-SLAPP legislation that would set a uniform standard of protection.

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