The Mil & Aero Blog
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
  Find me a safe harbor from 'forward-looking statements' ... please!

Posted by John Keller

My wife, a wise woman, warned me that at around age 50 I would look around at the world I inhabit and find an alien landscape. Well, I'm nearly 49, and I barely recognize anything.

I remember television in a major metropolitan area with only seven channels. I remember conducting business without cell phones, personal computers, or the Internet. Most notably I remember news announcements without "safe harbor statements" and "forward-looking statements."

I know the lawyers have taken over pretty much everything, but I think the lunatics are running the asylum, and have been doing so for much longer than I have taken notice of it.

I've been looking at press announcements almost every day of the nearly 27 years that I've been a professional news reporter. Add in my years as a high school and college journalist and ... I don't even want to think about it. New stuff creeps in over time that I barely notice, but I've reached my limit.

I'm routinely getting news announcements these days in which more than half the text is the so-called "safe harbor statements" and "forward-looking statements." I just got one yesterday that was 335 words long. Often my entire news stories contain fewer words than that.

What are these things, you might ask. I think they're mostly legal fig leaves intended to shield companies from litigation, as per the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

In other words, it's like a lot of things these days designed to stave-off lawsuits -- like warning people that coffee is hot, high-calorie foods can make you fat, and cigarettes can kill you. Is this news to anyone?

Well, the 335-word forward-looking statement I got yesterday has three core points. I hope you're sitting down because these are Earth-shattering revelations:

1) some of the things we say here are not necessarily historical facts;
2) some of the things we say here are guesses that might not turn out like we think they will; and
3) business is risky; real-life can sometimes get in the way.

I, for one, am shocked ... SHOCKED ... to hear that guesswork and risk are part of doing business. I never would have known, had this forward-looking statement neglected to tell me so.

Seriously, though, is all this really necessary? Please, find me a safe harbor from all these forward-looking statements.
Unfortunately, they are necessary as far as the lawyers are concerned.

When I first entered the PR world from the news side, I worked for a large multinational company that had just started the practice of running ALL news releases through the legal department because they had lost a lawsuit to a very small, garage shop. The subject of the suit was a statement in a new release the corporation had issued that stated it's new whatsis was the fastest watsis on the market. The garage shop was producing a whatsis that was actually faster. They sued and won. It set a precedent. From that time on, the corporation had to have it's lawyers approve all news release text because news releases had become official documents admissible in court.

There were two outcomes of that decision. The first was that there could be absolutely no absolute statements in news releases unless there was rock hard documentation to back them up. The second was that news releases started backing up in the attorneys' offices of every major corporation in the country. Something had to be done.

Thus, the safe harbor statements started showing up. That way, the absolutes could come back in, but they came with disclaimers written by attorneys, not writers.

If we were not such a litigious nation, we might not have this problem, but the reality is we are.
Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
The MAE editorial staff uses the Military Aerospace and Electronics Blog to share ...

November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / December 2010 / January 2011 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / May 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / November 2011 / December 2011 /

Powered by Blogger

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]