NEFAC Calls for Protection of Press Rights in Rhode Island ‘Revenge Porn’ Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefirstamendment.org

MAY 9 TESTIMONY

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently called for constitutional safeguards in Rhode Island legislation intending to combat so-called “revenge pornography.”

Senate Bill 0401 would criminalize the unauthorized sharing of sexually explicit images or photos of a person’s “intimate areas.” It does not, as NEFAC argued, adequately protect media organizations that may publish such images when they are newsworthy. Such instances could include, for example, the photos of mistreated or tortured prisoners of war.

“If passed, S.0401 will have a chilling effect on Rhode Island news organizations and their reporting,” according to written testimony submitted May 9 by NEFAC to the state’s Senate Committee on Judiciary. “While the privacy interests this bill seeks to address are legitimate and in need of protection, S.0401 lacks necessary First Amendment safeguards. The legislation places the burden on news publishers to prove their reporting is in the public interest, a burden that will undoubtedly lead to self-censorship.”

NEFAC opposed similar legislation proposed last year. Gov. Gina Raimondo ultimately vetoed that bill.

In addition to Senate Bill 0401, the committee is considering a proposal endorsed by the governor that more adequately protects the First Amendment. That proposal, Senate Bill 0765, includes an intent requirement that would narrow the scope of the law.

Though there are exclusions in Senate Bill 0401 — for publishing photos when “in the public interest,” for example — reasonable juries can disagree on whether those exclusions apply, NEFAC explained. This uncertainty will lead news organizations to self-censor rather than publish images they otherwise would.

“S.0765 more effectively addresses this First Amendment conflict by including an intent requirement,” wrote NEFAC. “This requirement is used by many states with “revenge porn” legislation and more adequately protects the constitutional rights of news organizations. It leaves the determination of newsworthiness to editors rather than juries.


NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.