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Columbia County Observer

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The Free Press and Public Discourse in Florida Must Be Protected

Photo of newspapers with headline: the free press and public discourse in Florida must be protected
Photo: günter via Pixabay  | Columbia County Observer graphic

TALLAHASSEE, FL — With Sunshine Week underway nationally this week, Common Cause Florida is announcing its opposition to recent attempts to curtail free speech and silence the press in Florida. 

An informed, engaged public is vital to a functioning democracy. Journalists play a critical role in holding our elected officials accountable and providing the public with news and information to make informed decisions. Florida has some of the country's strongest open meetings and public records laws, a proud history that Common Cause Florida has continuously supported and been a strong advocate for.

Recent attempts in Florida to curtail public discourse and the rights of our press through the introduction of dangerous and reckless legislation should alarm Floridians.

Common Cause Florida strongly opposes House Bill 991 and Senate Bill 1220, which are chilling attacks on the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

House Bill 991 is slated for discussion at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in front of the Civil Justice Subcommittee. (Sumner Hall, 404 House Office Building, 402 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee, Fla.). 

These bills would make it much easier for politicians and others to stifle free speech by lowering the bar to sue for defamation successfully and would even incentivize lawsuits in some cases. It would affect news organizations of all types and sizes – liberal, conservative, large national outlets, and small local stations. This legislation, as written, also opens the door to frivolous lawsuits being filed when everyday Floridians post controversial takes on social media or allege their elected officials are engaging in discrimination towards marginalized communities.

Taken together with recent attempts to curtail the rights of communities to protest and academic freedom at our public universities, these measures would further the disturbing trend of our state government silencing public discourse and dissent through fear. 

Amy Keith, Common Cause Florida’s program director said, “Our rights to free speech and a free press are protected by the First Amendment and are essential for Floridians to be well-informed and able to hold our government accountable.”

 “Common Cause Florida and our thousands of members oppose any attempts to silence or discourage reporting on our government and institutions.” 

Sarah Ovaska is the Southern regional communications strategist for Common Cause, working with state programs in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. Ms. Ovaska is a graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

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