1st Amendment Coalition argues against mandatory updating of news stories

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The New England First Amendment Coalition testified today against a Maine bill that would require news organizations to publish updates to certain stories and limit the use of mugshots in reporting.

LD 923 -- similar to failed legislation in New Hampshire and Rhode Island last year and a new bill in New Hampshire earlier this year -- is "not only unconstitutional, it's also unwise and undemocratic," wrote NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman in written testimony submitted to the Maine State Committee on the Judiciary.

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.

In NEFAC's testimony, Silverman cited 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."

Despite having the First Amendment freedom to publish criminal records as they alone deem appropriate, publishers across the country are nevertheless reconsidering their coverage, Silverman explained in NEFAC's testimony.

An increasing number of newsrooms are providing -- on their own and without government mandate -- opportunities for citizens to request stories about them to be updated or deindexed from Internet search engines.

"While the inclination for government to require a 'responsible press' is understandable, such aspiration cannot align with the First Amendment's protection of editorial judgment and truth," Silverman wrote. "And with newsrooms now reconsidering their own news coverage and offering solutions to unjust reputational harm, the path toward a responsible press is rightfully being determined by the publishers themselves."

NEFAC is the region's leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public's right to know about government. Learn more about how NEFAC is protecting the free press and open government in New England.

Justin Silverman is the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition.

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