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House panel weighs TAB newsroom legislation

 - Pre-1972 sound recordings bill advances

A key House committee this week held public hearings on two bills TAB and the Texas Press Association are advancing to protect newsrooms.

HB 1759 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, would encourage the correction or clarification of defamation by a newsroom where it is appropriate to do so.  The measure provides newsroom with a quick and cost-effective means of correcting or clarifying alleged mistakes and avoiding costly litigation.  It applies to all defamation claims, whether by public or private figures, against media or non-media publishers, and establishes a process for prompt resolution of disputes.

Such legislation is in place in 30 other states, with some dating as far back as 1882.  In 1993 the Uniform Law Commission adopted the Uniform Correction or Clarification of Defamation Act, a model statute for state legislatures to consider.

TAB Board member, Jerry Martin of KPRC-TV Houston, was one of a handful of media representatives who testified for the measure before the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

HB 2935, also by Hunter, would clarify the appropriate jurisdiction for cases brought under the anti-SLAPP litigation that TAB and other media groups passed in 2011.  Differing court decisions prompted the need for the clarification.

Both bills were left pending by the committee and will likely be taken up again in the coming weeks.  Identical legislation is pending consideration in the Texas Senate.

Also this week, the same committee passed for consideration by the full House HB 1043 which would add a much-needed broadcast exception to a longstanding Texas record bootlegging law.  Such an exception already is on the books in 47 other states and would clarify an existing ambiguity that in extreme situations could be exploited to harass stations playing sound recordings made before 1972.

The measure was authored by Rep. Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa, with identical legislation pending in the Texas Senate authored by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.

“Now that Spring Break and Easter Break have passed, the legislative pace is quickening with fewer than 60 days left in the session and all the anticipated major policy decisions still awaiting full consideration by lawmakers,” said TAB President Oscar Rodriguez.

“The sense of urgency to clear important hurdles like committee hearings and floor votes is increasing, and broadcasters will likely see that as we continue to reach out and ask for help in contacting individual lawmakers along the way.

“The constituent contacts make the difference between success and failure and I encourage broadcasters to respond as quickly as we reach out,” Rodriguez said.

For more information on these and other bills TAB is tracking, contact TAB President Oscar Rodriguez or TAB Newsroom and Legal Services Director Michael Schneider.

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