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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Law Would|Protect Journalists

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Texas journalists back a proposed law that would protect them from libel lawsuits for accurately reporting whistleblower allegations that turn out to be false.

A Texas Supreme Court ruling did not clarify whether state law protects reporters in such cases.

The ruling came in a libel lawsuit filed by brain surgeon Byron Neely against CBS affiliate KEYE-TV, Viacom and reporter Nanci Wilson for their report on his alleged use of self-prescribed drugs.

Dr. Neely claimed that the gist of the broadcast was that he was disciplined for operating on patients while using dangerous drugs.

Laura Prather of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas said the Neely ruling did not clarify whether the "substantial truth doctrine applies to reporting on third-party allegations."

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press calls a statement "substantially true" if, "even if not literally true, it does not create an impression in the mind of the listener more damaging than a literally true statement would."

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, introduced SB 627 to the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday. It would amend a section of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, which relates to publication by a periodical that is "privileged and is not a ground for a libel action."

A section of the bill would amend the law to protect journalists from publication of allegations made by a third party regarding matters of public concern, regardless of the truth or falsity of the allegations.

Opponents call the bill unnecessary.

Neely's attorney told The Associated Press that the surgeon's "life was wrecked" by allegations that were proven untrue and that the new bill would allow the media to "defame somebody, to ruin their lives."

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