Concerned about a possible limitation on the ability of those exercising their right to free speech to avoid being harassed by frivolous but costly defamation lawsuits, major media outlets including National Public Radio, CNN, the Washington Post, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, and Time Magazine, filed an Amicus Brief last Friday supporting the appeal of the Basel Action Network (BAN).
BAN is a Seattle-based global environmental watchdog organization that was sued by an electronics recycler. In 2011, BAN spoke out against Chicago area electronics recycling firm, Intercon Solutions, after documenting the export of hazardous electronic waste from Intercon’s Chicago Heights facility to Hong Kong, China.
BAN is campaigning to halt the export and dumping of electronic waste in developing countries as it creates deadly pollution in poor communities in Asia, Latin America and Africa. BAN has created a recycler certification program known as e-Stewards which forbids the export of hazardous waste to developing countries.
Hong Kong authorities corroborated that the intercom shipment tracked by BAN contained hazardous electronic waste, but notwithstanding the documented proof, Intercon sued BAN for defamation after BAN denied the company e-Stewards certification.
As a defense, BAN’s legal team is seeking to invoke Washington State anti-SLAPP suit legislation. SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) lawsuits are used to burden public interest groups and the press to prevent them from speaking out on issues of public importance and performing important watchdog functions. But, surprisingly, the district judge in Illinois ruled that BAN was not protected by the Washington anti-SLAPP law in Federal Court.
BAN has appealed that ruling and major media outlets have now weighed in, supporting BAN’s appeal because of their shared concern that citizens’ free speech rights must be protected by state anti-SLAPP statutes whether the suit is filed in state or federal court.
“We are very pleased to see that the nation’s largest and most respected journalist organizations support BAN’s legal right to speak out on issues of public importance and to strike down attempts to mute its message regarding global electronic waste dumping,” said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of BAN. “Nobody should have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend themselves simply for stating substantiated facts.”
BAN’s appeal in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals will be heard by a panel of judges later this year.