Monthly Archives: April 2013

National press group opposes ‘Ag Gag’ bill

The National Press Photographers Association weighed in today, asking Gov. Bill Haslam not to sign the “Ag Gag” bill passed by the legislature. The bill orders journalists to turn over to authorities within 48 hours any pictures or videos they take of livestock abuse. Such a law would directly contradict Tennessee’s Shield Law, which protects journalists from being forced to turn over sources and unpublished material to government agents.
soring.jpgThe bill targets animal welfare groups that have posted online videos and pictures of abuse, such as the soring of Tennessee walking horses. But lawmakers also voted against exempting the news media from the bill.
Here’s the letter from Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA, to Haslam:
“I am the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). It is my understanding that the Tennessee Legislature has passed S.B. 1248/H.B. 1191 adding a mandatory reporting requirement to Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 39-14-202.
“Please be advised that we strongly oppose adding that new subsection requiring: “(1) A person who intentionally records by photograph, digital image, video or similar medium for the purpose of documenting a violation of subsection (a) committed against livestock shall, within forty-eight (48) hours, or by the close of business the next business day, whichever is later: (A) Report such violation to a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the alleged offense; and (B) Submit any unedited photographs, digital images or video recordings to law enforcement authorities.”
“We believe that this proposed legislation violates the Shield Law provisions of the Tennessee Shield Law T.C.A. ยง 24-1-208. We also believe that the bill is unconstitutional under the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in that it abridges free speech and press and constitutes an unreasonable seizure lacking in due process.
“Representing 7,000 members nationwide we have previously sent letters opposing legislation abridging free press rights on behalf of other organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), American Society of News Editors (ASNE),” Associated Press Media Editors (APME), Newspaper Association of America (NAA), Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and the E.W. Scripps Co.
“Most recently the California sponsor withdrew a similar bill (AB 343) from consideration for the reasons stated above.
“We request that you do not sign this bill.”

Ag Gag bill sneers at First Amendment

According to the General Assembly’s website, the “Animal Cruelty and Abuse Bill” would:
“require a person who intentionally records by photograph, digital image, video or similar medium for the purpose of documenting the offense of cruelty to animals committed against livestock, within 48 hours, or by the close of business the next business day, whichever is later, to:
“(1) Report such violation to a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the alleged offense; and
“(2) Submit any unedited photographs, digital images or video recordings to law enforcement authorities.”
Apparently this bill is seen by agribusiness as a way to stop PETA-style “vigilantes” from sneaking pictures of animal abuse and launching online campaigns. But consider the perspective of a journalist. Here’s a photo we ran of suspects in a Cocke County cockfighting raid being charged. cockfighting.jpgArguably it is a photo “documenting the offense of cruelty to animals committed against livestock.” But there is no way we are going to submit this photo and all of our out-takes to law enforcement.
Suppose the photo were of an actual cockfight. Would that change the situation? No. The news media is not an extension of local law enforcement, and we will not function as such. That’s why Tennessee has a reporter’s shield law, so that journalists can operate independently.
The First Amendment protects an independent press because the founders understood that freedom of the press is a logical extension of the basic freedom of speech and is vital to keeping government power in check.
Some lawmakers have suggested exempting the media from an “Ag Gag” law. That idea reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what “the press” is. No license or certification is needed to be part of the media in America. Freedom of the press means anyone can be “the press.” In this era of websites, blogs and tweets, there are no practical barriers to self-publication, either.
If the Ag Gag bill happens to pass and the News Sentinel records images of animal cruelty, we will not consider ourselves bound to turn those images over to law enforcement. We will assume that the shield law, and more importantly, the First Amendment, will pre-empt such a law. I’d recommend that anyone else who believes in freedom of expression take the same position, too.

Style on ‘illegal immigrant’ changing

The Associated Press announced that it is changing the way it refers to people who have entered the country illegally. This has been one of the more controversial entries in the AP Stylebook because many readers interpret a newspaper’s choice of words as reflecting an attitude or bias in the contentious debate over illegal immigration.
But in truth, the intent of AP style is to be as fair and neutral as possible in reporting on public affairs. With that in mind, the new entry in the Stylebook, announced Tuesday, says:
illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.”
The News Sentinel, in most instances, follows AP style. So, in the future we will be avoiding the “illegal immigrant” label in favor of a longer phrase, such as “person who entered the country illegally.”
Carroll.jpgI understand the AP’s reasoning. Humans can’t really be “illegal,” only acts can be illegal. “Illegal immigrant” was a shorthand label, something of a compromise between the older, and perhaps derogatory, “illegal alien” and “undocumented immigrant,” which some readers saw as more precise but others considered euphemistic.
The AP’s executive editor, Kathleen Carroll, said the wire service has been working on “ridding the Stylebook of labels.” For example, it now recommends saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of “schizophrenic.”
It’s possible the News Sentinel will be revising it’s style on illegal immigration further. The 14 E.W. Scripps Co. newspapers, which are all edited now in a shared cloud computer environment, are developing a common style that will make it easier for us to swap content and assist each other in editing. Four of those papers are in Texas, where the immigration issue is especially sensitive, so the way we speak of it in our news stories will be matter for serious discussion.

New Y-12 fence restricts media, too

Anti-nuclear protesters are considering going to court over the government’s decision to fence off an area outside the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant where demonstrations have been held for many years. The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance says the grassy space is a designated public forum where more than 700 gatherings have been held over 25 years. Fencing it, OREPA believes, is a violation of the right of assembly, one of the five freedoms of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. The others, of course, are freedom of religion, speech, petition and the press.Y-12 Fence

Regarding that last one, the new fence arguably abridges freedom of the press, too, by arbitrarily restricting news gathering at a location where it has long been permitted. The announcement of the fencing project included:

“NOTE TO NEWS DESKS AND ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Media representatives wishing to shoot photos and video at the site should note that you will no longer be able to access the U.S. Government property at the main entrance to Y-12. We encourage all media to be particularly mindful of vehicle traffic and safety if you choose to take photos or video close to the road. To arrange for shooting photos or video at New Hope Center, please contact B&W Public Affairs at (865) 574-1640.”

By the way, did it really take $95,000 of our tax dollars to build this temporary fence, as Y-12 claims?

News Sentinel rolls out new apps

News Sentinel iPhone AppsWe’ve added to our family of mobile apps. Starting today, our tablet app is available on Kindle Fires.
This is a version of the graphic-rich app we’ve offered for iPads for the past several months. You can find it now in the Amamazon app store.

At the same time, our iPad E-Edition app has been updated so you can get it on your iPhone, too. This is a replica edition, identical to the daily newspaper. You scan through pages by swiping you finger and enlarge stories for reading by tapping the screen.
Kindle Fire and Android E-Edition apps also will be available soon. All are free of charge.