This year the General Assembly passed the most effective legislative protection of free speech rights in Georgia in 20 years. It was a major First Amendment victory for Georgians, bolstering their right to comment on matters of public concern. But it happened with little public attention, and it came about because of the concerted efforts of an often-unheralded First Amendment champion: the Motion Picture Association of America.
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is honoring the Motion Picture Association’s leadership role in building a coalition that helped persuade state lawmakers to strengthen free speech laws. The foundation has named MPAA as its recipient of the 2016 Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award.
Former U.S. senator and MPAA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chris Dodd will come to Atlanta on Oct. 13 to accept the award at the foundation’s annual Weltner Banquet.
“The MPAA is honored to receive the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Weltner Freedom of Information Award,” Dodd said. “We are proud of our longstanding commitment to promoting First Amendment freedoms. We consistently resist calls for government censorship and work every single day to protect filmmakers’ rights to tell their stories. Georgia’s new, stronger free speech law safeguards those rights.”
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The Motion Picture Association’s work under the Gold Dome led to increased legal protections against so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. The result: Deep-pocketed plaintiffs now have a much tougher time sustaining groundless defamation and other claims designed to chill free speech in Georgia.
“It was an extraordinary First Amendment triumph, particularly during a time when such essential constitutional rights are under threat,” said Georgia First Amendment Foundation Executive Director Hollie Manheimer. “The Motion Picture Association was instrumental in pushing for these free speech protections that benefit everyone in Georgia.”
The state’s previous anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 1996 and was narrowly interpreted to protect statements made to governmental bodies or linked to official proceedings. This year’s House Bill 513, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah, expanded protection to all speech—and related conduct—on all matters of public concern. It also included provisions for prompt appellate review and mandatory award of attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party. The legislation became law on July 1, ensuring Georgia courts are places of protection, not harassment, for the exercise of free speech.
The Motion Picture Association’s First Amendment advocacy stretches back to its founding in 1922. The association consistently fights to make sure films and other creative works are afforded full free speech rights.
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Freedom of Information Award is named for Charles L. Weltner, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who championed freedom of information and ethics in state government. The annual Weltner Banquet provides financial support for the foundation’s narrow and essential mission: fighting for free speech, government transparency and access to public information in Georgia.
Media contact: Hollie Manheimer, Executive Director, Georgia First Amendment Foundation
Phone: 404 -759-3646