Tag Archives: shield law

Cruelty to animals bill at odds with journalists



Legislation working its way through the General Assembly purports to improve the reporting of cruelty to animals but actually limits investigative reporting of such incidents regardless of who is reporting. And it comes in direct conflict with Tennessee’s Shield Law.

House Bill 1191 (Senate Bill 1248) requires that anyone photographing or taking videos of an act of animal cruelty as defined in TCA Section 39-14-202 is required to report the violation and submit any unedited photographs or video recordings to law enforcement authorities no later than the end of the next weekday.

I understand the sponsors’ efforts to limit the abilities of such organizations as the Humane Society of the United States and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to trash animal husbandry since agriculture remains one of the strongest sectors of the state’s economy.

And for lack of a better term, a state of war has existed for years between HSUS and the Tennessee walking horse industry.

A widely distributed Humane Society video report of soring and beating of walking horses by former walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell and two employees dealt a harsh blow to the image of the industry last year. McConnell entered into a plea agreement in federal court and was banned for life from walking horse industry associations for his violations of the federal Horse Protection Act.

Other livestock farmers across the state fear that any of them could be targeted by similar undercover video or photographic accounts of what HSUS or PETA may portray as abuse but which may well be standard stock farming practices.

But this legislation also places traditional newspaper and broadcast journalists on the horns of a dilemma since the bills do not differentiate between them and ordinary citizens or so-called animal rights advocates.

News reporters for broadcast news operations or newspapers do not judge situations or incidents they cover for stories. Instead, they rely upon law enforcement officers and district attorneys to determine if crimes have been committed and the journalists report those determinations. Judgment is left up to the courts.

Reporting all sides of a story, such as animal abuse, requires more than a photo or video. It requires confirmation by other sources on the record and requests for comment. It takes time to get the facts. Rushing to meet a legislative mandate can lead to costly mistakes.

Surrendering all unedited photos or video recordings also violates a basic journalism tenet held by most news organizations that do not allow dissemination of unpublished images. That is part of the shield law privilege in many states.

But with this legislation, the sponsors are using a sledge hammer to drive a nail.

Kent Flanagan is executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. He can be reached by phone at (615) 957-2825 or by email at kent.flanagan@gmail.com.


TCOG’s Gibson quoted on efforts by Tennessee courts to shield sex crime victims’ names

From the AP:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee appeals court is increasing efforts to shield the identities of adult victims of sex crimes.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has had a policy in place for years to use initials in place of names in opinions published online. These opinions can go into graphic detail about the sexual abuse of women and children.

Gibson: Aired ‘Hunt and Kill’ footage should suffice for prosecutors

Davidson County prosecutors are trying to get access to the raw footage of interviews from A&E’s Hunt and Kill series in which a Nashville Brown Pride gangster involved in a murder investigation said the group “did what we had to do.” TCOG Executive Director Frank Gibson was quoted in the story by the Nashville City Paper:

Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said reporters aren’t in the business of police work, and the footage aired should be enough for prosecutors.

“Journalists should not become arms of the police department or the prosecution,” he said. “Their job isn’t to investigate things and then turn their notes over to law enforcement.”

Gibson: ‘We probably need this now more than ever’

Tennessee Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Frank Gibson is quoted in the Bristol Herald-Courier about renewed efforts to create a federal shield law.

U.S. Rep. David Boucher, a Democrat from Abingdon, Va., has introduced a bill that would create the shield law.

“I think we probably need this now more than ever,” said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “With all the problems the press has had getting information about all the bailout stuff – questions about where the money went – this is a perfect opportunity for someone who works in a big bank to blow the whistle or reveal any abuse of spending.”

Tennessee’s shield law has been in place for about 30 years and “has worked well,” Gibson said.