Can credit ratings be free speech?

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: Congress today takes up the problem of regulating credit rating agencies. Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings -- it turns out they over-rated a lot of securities that, as we know, ended up plummeting in value. One thing some observers would like to change is the rating agencies' protection under the First Amendment. Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: The rating agencies started out as publications. They still claim the same freedom of speech status a newspaper might. That makes it tough to sue them and win.

Banking consultant Bert Ely says it's time that changed:

Bert Ely: In my opinion, if the rating agencies could be sued for negligence, they probably would not have rated a lot of these complex products in the first place and we would not have the global financial crisis that we do today.

But Sylvain Raines of R&R Consulting says it's not the First Amendment protections that are the problem. It's everyone's understanding of how these complicated securities work. He says here's what should happen:

Sylvain Raines: If we really sat down around a table and we said, OK, we will not leave this room until we are all clear in our heads how structured securities shall be valued.

He says all that slicing and dicing of loans isn't going away. He says if the financial industry doesn't work out how to value this stuff, the whole crisis could repeat itself.

I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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