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Chris Dodd salutes film and free speech at Emory event

Former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd has Georgia on his mind frequently these days. Now chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, he’s an energetic supporter of the state’s film-friendly policies.

“According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, 245 feature film and television productions have been shot in Georgia in fiscal year 2016, representing $2.2 billion in direct spending and an overall economic impact of $7 billion in the state, catapulting Georgia to the number three production center in the United States, behind only California and New York,” he said the other night, when his organization was honored at the Georgia Freedom of Information Foundation’s 2016 Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award dinner. “Motion picture and television production account for 25,000 direct jobs here in Georgia, generating almost $1.7 billion in wages.”

The honor recognized his organization’s key role in championing Georgia’s newly strengthened anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) legislation.

“We at the Motion Picture Association of America were pleased to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in the struggle for free expression,” he said. “Every day, producers, writers, directors and actors tell stories about other people. Sometimes the characters they bring to life are wholly fictitious. And sometimes those stories are based on real people and real events, including some people who would prefer not to be talked about in a public setting. Too frequently, legal actions are brought by these individuals not to vindicate their rights, but rather to silence creative people.”

Anti-SLAPP legislation protects citizens from all realms, not just the movie industry. For an excellent explanation of what the law does and why it's so crucial, see AJC Managing Editor Shawn McIntosh's recent column about it here.

McIntosh also is president of the board of directors of GFAF, an organization that fights for free speech and government transparency. The AJC and its parent company provide financial support to the nonprofit organization.

“With the passage of this new legislation in Georgia, our members’ First Amendment rights can be vindicated quickly by a judge – not through years of burdensome litigation and hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in legal fees,” Dodd said.

The Weltner event and award is named for the late Charles Weltner, the only member of the Georgia Congressional delegation to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two years later, when the state Democratic Party demanded he sign an oath pledging his loyalty to segregationist Lester Maddox, Weltner opted to skip running for reelection.

“I love the Congress, but I will give up my office before I give up my principles,” he said in his resignation speech, catalogued at the New Georgia Encyclopedia’s site, “I cannot compromise with hate.”

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Jennifer Brett is a multiplatform journalist and digital coach. She writes The Buzz blog for