Other states soon to follow?
Louisiana has criminalized journalism with the passage of a bill that makes it illegal to publish personal information about those who carry a concealed handgun. The crime will be punishable by six months of jail time and a fine of $10,000. Anyone who “intentionally disseminates for publication” information about the permit holders can face these penalties.
The bill’s passage marks a dramatic turning point for journalism in an already tense climate. Conversations among lawmakers recently have turned to suggestions that journalists should be prosecuted for releasing sensitive information, especially when it comes to whistleblowers.
Earlier this month, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said that Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the story about whistleblower Edward Snowden, should be charged with treason for releasing classified documents. When questioned about freedom of the press, King replied that while freedom of the press is important, “no right is absolute.” Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana apparently agrees. He signed the controversial bill allowing the jailing of journalists earlier this month.
The bill’s passage has some outraged. Calling the bill “patently unconstitutional,” Executive Director of The Louisiana Press Association slammed the legislation as an infringement on the right to free speech through the concept of prior restraint.
While the bill was being discussed, Baton Rouge Advocate Executive Director Carl Redman told a senate committee it could also limit the ability of journalists to report on problems with the issuing of gun permits and said “I find it very ironic that the very people who screamed the loudest about attempts to limit their Second Amendment rights are here eager to limit my First Amendment rights.” He was referring to the fact that the bill’s most avid proponents were members of the gun lobby. The original bill called for the possibility of hard labor along with two years of imprisonment as a penalty for journalists who publish the information.
While the National Rifle Association was not prepared to issue a formal statement about the decision, they are seemingly very pleased with the new legislation. The NRA legislation website has an article announcing the bill’s passage along with the emails of all of the lawmakers involved. The article asks its members to send the lawmakers an email thanking them for enacting the bill and the other pro-gun bills which were signed at the same time.
While the bill will allow for journalists to be jailed, it calls for a $500 fine and no jail time for public officials and police officers who release the same information.
Public reaction to the bill’s passage has been mixed. Some comments under news stories about the bill state the new legislation is unconstitutional while others praise the decision as protecting the privacy of gun owners.
Other cases which have involved criminalizing journalism are very rare and usually involve the alleged violation of gag orders, such as the famous case of Judith Miller, a journalist who was jailed for upholding the confidentiality of her sources. The Louisiana bill is a rarity because it allows for jail time for stories that are unrelated to gag orders or national security issues.
By: Rebecca Savastio
Source: Media Matters
Source: Mother Jones
Source: NBC News
Source: The New York Times