Tuesday, March 29, 2005

If I ever completely disappear

from this blog, it could mean I've been arrested:

By Jim Davenport

The Associated Press

COLUMBIA - People who maliciously slander political candidates would face up to five years in prison if a North Myrtle Beach senator's proposal becomes law.
It might be a long shot in a state that did away with criminal libel years ago, but Sen. Dick Elliott says something needs to be done to end over-the-top campaign tactics.

When people become candidates, they should expect to be "fair game for all kinds of questions," the coastal Democrat said. "But that doesn't make them unfair game."
A "lifetime of family reputation can fall by the wayside," he said, and that could make people less willing to seek public office. "People will not expose themselves to the often unkind, unfair abuse they would face," he said.

Lawsuits are an option for people who feel slandered or libeled, but the standards for proving that are higher for public officials. But, Elliott said, if the person making the false charges has no assets, the slandered candidate would get nothing. His proposed criminal penalty would target those offenders.

He said people who demonstrate actual malice, knowing a statement is false or having reckless disregard for it being false, would face a criminal charge that could bring a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison. A candidate still could pursue a civil lawsuit.

Elliott said publishers and broadcasters would not be targets for the penalties.

"I understand his frustration, but it's a slippery slope you're starting down here," said Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association.
Courts have always protected political speech, he said. A criminal penalty could discourage people from raising issues that are true.

"We're not in favor of malicious lies being spread about anybody," he said, but the bill raises constitutional concerns.

Sen. Elliott was the target of some nasty allegations in his last campaign, but this lousy, backwards law is no solution.

The law would apply only to false statements, so, sure, I could still call, say, Thad Viers a wanker or a pusillanimous bully and be acquitted. But it'd be nice not to have to worry about being prosecuted in the first place.


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