Lawyer urges UK PROs to back Nike appeal

The lawyer representing US PR trade bodies in the fight against last year's California Supreme Court ruling on freedom of speech is urging UK PROs to join in a battle that could have serious implications for communicators across the world.

Tom Clarke, a senior partner with US law firm Ropers Majeski Kohn & Bentley, has put out a plea for PROs to show support for Nike in its legal battle to protect its right to free speech - and that of other global organisations - by the 24 February deadline.

Clarke is representing the PR Society of America, the Council of PR Firms, the Arthur W Page Society, the Public Affairs Council and the US's IPR in filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the US Supreme Court, which last month agreed to hear Nike's appeal against an earlier ruling by the California court.

California ruled last May that comments made by Nike in a letter to a US paper were not covered by the First Amendment right to free speech - essentially ruling that any PR statement should be judged as 'commercial speech' in the same way as advertising messages.

Nike was responding to criticism about its labour practices, disputing accusations over its workshop conditions. The court ruled activist Mark Kasky of San Francisco could sue Nike for its comments.

Clarke said that although the case is being heard in America, it will have implications for firms with clients or target media in California and could open the floodgates to a wave of similar cases.

'What is frightening is that because of the way the court defined commercial speech, it covers anything that any business says on any topic,' said Clarke, adding that the ruling effectively 'silences' companies in the face of critics and may put companies off transparent CSR reporting.

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