New Hampshire ‘Media Liability’ Legislation Unconstitutional, Undermines Press Freedom

NEFAC Opposes HB 1157 Citing First Amendment Cases and Warning of Chilling Effect on News Organizations

JAN. 15 LETTER

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

The The New England First Amendment Coalition opposes a New Hampshire bill that would require newsrooms to update certain stories about criminal proceedings at the request of those charged with crimes.

“The legislation is unwise, undemocratic and unconstitutional,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director in a Jan. 15 letter to state lawmakers. “The bill is a violation of the right to freedom of the press guaranteed by the New Hampshire and United States constitutions.”

House Bill 1157 would impose liability on any New Hampshire news organization that fails to “update, retract, or correct an Internet published story concerning a criminal proceeding against a named person” if notified by that person that he or she was later found not guilty, acquitted, or had the charges dismissed.

The bill is currently being heard by the House Judiciary Committee. A public hearing is scheduled for today at 11:30 a.m.

In its letter to the committee chairwomen, NEFAC 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.”

House Bill 1157 would turn news organizations into an arm of the court system, forcing coverage newsrooms may not want — or need — to provide, according to NEFAC.

“This is not only antithetical to the First Amendment but also an affront to Part 1, Article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution that describes ‘liberty of the press’ as ‘essential to the security of freedom’ in the state,” Silverman wrote. “House Bill 1157 curtails that liberty to an unconscionable and unconstitutional degree.”


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, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.

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