Coalition Testifies Against HB 584, Explains First Amendment and State Protections for Free Press
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The New England First Amendment Coalition recently testified against a New Hampshire bill that would require news organizations to publish updates to certain stories and limit the use of mugshots in reporting.
House Bill 584 — similar to failed legislation in New Hampshire and Rhode Island last year — is “blatantly unconstitutional,” explained attorney and NEFAC Executive Committee member Gregory V. Sullivan. Unfettered editorial discretion “is blackletter law in the United States,” he said.
The bill requires media outlets to publish follow-up reports on the outcomes of civil, criminal or ethical proceedings before a governmental body when asked to do so by members of the public.
It also prohibits the continued publication of mugshot photos when those pictured are acquitted, enter a plea of no contest or receive other favorable outcomes in court.
Sullivan testified on Feb. 26 before the New Hampshire House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, citing Miami Herald Pub. Co. v. Tornillo, a seminal First Amendment case that protects the editorial judgment of newspaper publishers.
Chief Justice Berger in that case explained: “A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution and like many other virtues it cannot be legislated.”
The motivation behind this most recent bill is understandable given the repetitional harm to those unfairly treated, Sullivan said. But the First Amendment prevents government from turning news organizations into an arm of the court system, forcing newsrooms to provide certain coverage.
The New Hampshire Constitution also prevents this type of governmental interference. Part 1, Article 22 is “even stronger in its protection of the free press than the First Amendment is,” he explained.
NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government.
When “media liability” legislation was introduced in New Hampshire last year, NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman told state lawmakers that the bill was “unwise, undemocratic and unconstitutional.”
After Rhode Island legislators proposed a similar bill that would punish news outlets over their reporting, the coalition warned that the legislation would “ultimately discourage crime reporting altogether for fear of liability.”
Learn more about how NEFAC is protecting the free press and open government in New England.
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 include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Paul and Ann Sagan, The Boston Globe, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.