September 22, 2021

Meritless lawsuits against Iowa Newspapers

I encourage you to editorialize on a bill moving through the Iowa Legislature that has profound implications for Iowa newspapers. HF 456 is an “anti-SLAPP” bill is important to preserve freedom of the press in Iowa, particularly for smaller-town newspapers that might not have a huge legal budget to defend a meritless SLAPP lawsuit.

As you’re probably aware, this is what happened recently with the Carroll paper, when it reported on a police officer’s inappropriate behavior and that officer filed a lawsuit and the legal costs threatened the paper’s very survival.

Those who have registered in favor of the bill are numerous and include obvious supporters of a free press. (The Iowa Broadcasters Association, the Iowa Newspapers Association, and more.) Unlike about half of the other states in the country, Iowa has no anti-SLAPP law on the books.

This legislation would not in any way prevent people or businesses from filing lawsuits against newspapers and media, but would instead expedite the legal process to prevent long, drawn-out, expensive litigation that is intended only to harass or financially bankrupt a media organization, such as a small-town newspaper.

The bill passed the Iowa House of Representatives unanimously and just a few days ago advanced out of subcommittee in the Iowa Senate. Any time between now and the next legislative deadline (the second funnel) in a couple of weeks would be an ideal time to editorialize on the topic.

Veronica Lorson Fowler, Communications Director

American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa