DeSantis defends defamation legislation that presumes malice when outlets cite anonymous sources ‘to smear people’

While conservatives in America have been sounding the alarms over “fake news” for years, Governor Ron DeSantis is championing a bill that has been presented in Florida’s House and Senate that would reform defamation laws to presume that outlets that cite “anonymous sources” to “smear people” did so with malicious intent.

At a press conference on Thursday, DeSantis defended the legislation, which, according to the Florida House, “creates presumption that statement by anonymous source is presumptively false” and provides that a “public figure does not need to show actual malice to prevail in defamation action.”

(Video: YouTube)

“I think what the bill is doing now is basically saying that if somebody is defamed so someone publishes or says something, this is pretty much going to be written, they publish something that defames you,” DeSantis told reporters. “So it’s false, that if they’re using anonymous sources, then that can be a presumption that that was done with malice, because if not, then there’s no way you could ever have a defamation action.”

The governor called the use of anonymous sources by journalists who are eager to put people on blast with nothing but a source no one can verify to back them “fundamentally wrong.”

“I think what’s happened is particularly corporate media outlets have relied on anonymous sources to smear people. And I just think that that’s something that is fundamentally wrong,” he stated. “And so, again, these are false statements of fact that defame people.”

Critics of the legislation have claimed that it would hamper free speech and lead to a litany of frivolous lawsuits.

DeSantis dismissed those concerns.

“The question is, if you bring a suit, how are you able to show that that was malicious? And I think the fact that it was anonymous could be a presumption that that’s the case. And so I think I don’t think it’s going to cause much of a difference in terms of free speech,” he argued, adding, “I do think it may cause some people to not want to put out things that are false, that are, that are smearing somebody’s reputation.”

“And, you know, I think people can make a judgment about how they view that,” he continued. “But I think to have a standard that’s impossible to meet for people, particularly people who are considered public figures, who aren’t even in office or just maybe get involved in some, they are at a school board meeting or something. You know, I think that that will be good.”

As BizPac Review reported, DeSantis held an hour-long roundtable discussion with legal experts and victims of media defamation in early February.

“We’ve seen over the last generation, corporate media outlets, legacy media outlets increasingly divorce themselves from the truth and instead try to elevate preferred narratives and partisan activism over reporting the facts,” DeSantis said at the time. “When they depart from the truth – a lot of times the truth’s on the cutting-room floor – and the narratives that they’re supporting and furthering actually damage a lot of people with lies.”

“At the end of that day,” he said, victims of defamation fought “to hold these big media companies accountable for their actionable lies.”

“It’s one thing to say what you want in truth, and that’s fine, and the truth isn’t always comfortable,” he continued, “but when you’re knowingly putting out false information and, indeed, I’d say these companies are probably the leading purveyors of disinformation in our entire society right now, there needs to be an ability for people to defend themselves.”



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