Monday, 10 May 2010

SLAPP schtick goes to the movies.

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

The acronym was coined in the 1980s by University of Denver professors Penelope Canan and George W. Pring. The term was originally defined as "a lawsuit involving communications made to influence a governmental action or outcome, which resulted in a civil complaint or counterclaim filed against non-government individuals or organizations on a substantive issue of some public interest or social significance." It has since been defined more broadly in one state (California) to include suits about speech on any public issue.

The original conceptualization proffered by Canan and Pring emphasized the Right to petition as protected in the United States under the US Constition's specific protection in the First Amendment's fifth clause. It is still definitional: SLAPPs refer to civil lawsuits filed against those who have communicated to government officialdom (in its entire constitutional apparatus). The Right to Petition [granted by Edgar the Peaceful, 10 Century] precedes the Magna Carta in terms significant in the development of democratic institutions. It claims that democracy cannot work if there are, or if interest groups can erect, barriers between the governed and the governing.

According to New York Supreme Court Judge J. Nicholas Colabella, "Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined." A number of jurisdictions have made such suits illegal, provided that the appropriate standards of journalistic responsibility have been met by the critic.
It appears multinational empires corporations are exploring new ways of bestowing pre-emptive SLAPP suits upon those who would dare to document their business practices and their impact on individuals and communities. The "rights" of big business to produce big profits and to keep the wheel of greed industry turning have become God-given entitlements, and the US Supreme Court seems happy to oblige them.
The director Michael Moore says that a federal judge’s ruling to allow Chevron to subpoena footage from the documentary “Crude” could have dire consequences on the documentary film-making process, and urged that film’s director to resist the subpoena if he can.

[...]Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in Manhattan said that Joe Berlinger, the director of “Crude,” would have to turn over more than 600 hours of footage from that documentary. The film chronicles the Ecuadorians who sued Texaco (now owned by Chevron) saying an oil field contaminated their water. Chevron said that Mr. Berlinger’s footage could be helpful as it seeks to have the litigation dismissed and pursues an international treaty arbitration related to the lawsuit. [...]

Should the decision of Judge Kaplan be upheld and a subpoena be served for Mr. Berlinger’s footage, Mr. Moore said, “The chilling effect of this is, someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistleblower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they’re working for.”

This seems the right moment to remind greedmongers of this Cree Nation wisdom:

"Only when the last tree has died and last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money"

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