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Proposed Montana legislation restricting photos unconstitutional

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David Rauzi drauzi@idahocountyfreepress.com

From our Montana neighbors: State legislation is under consideration that would prohibit news outlets from posting photos of fatal accidents on social media until authorities can notify next of kin.

For free speech advocates – which should be all of us, press and public alike – this is disturbing discussion.

According to an Associated Press article, the bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Amanda Curtis of Butte, seeks to force news organizations to delay posting these photos on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The bill does not include photos published on news sites, and it only restricts news organizations with social media accounts, not the general public who might post similar photos on social media.

Legislator concern stated within the article is media photo publication on social media, as it currently exists, “can’t continue to allow this to go on if they aren’t going to monitor themselves.”

Such a restriction on photo publication would constitute prior restraint; the censorship by government of free speech before it is allowed to take place.

Media should monitor themselves; they should take care in not only the words that are disseminated on a news event but the photos and video, as well. Newsrooms should abide by community standards for what is allowable, balancing that with the need to accurately depict a news event. One of the guiding philosophies for reporting is writing and depicting the truth, with good motives and for justifiable ends (to paraphrase 18th century English judge and politician, Sir William Blackstone).

This prohibition is governmental authority to decide news coverage. Underneath that, how they will define what such offending photos are and what constitutes notification, and what media (Newspaper? Radio? Blogger? Citizen videojournalist?) this pertains to. And with that precedent set, where next will media coverage and freedom of speech be targeted?

News is not always pretty, nor pleasant, but journalists worth their salt attempt their best to portray truth honestly without falling into sensationalism. Communities and media communicating with each other help guide decisions on what best serves the interests of news, not this unconstitutional regulatory proposal.



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