Will more ag reporting wind up in court?
UPDATE: Just wanted to add this new story from the Associated Press, with this lead:
An undercover video that showed California cows struggling to stand as they were prodded to slaughter by forklifts led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
In Vermont, a video of veal calves skinned alive and tossed like sacks of potatoes ended with the plant's closure and criminal convictions.
Now in a pushback led by the meat and poultry industries, state legislators in Nebraska and across the country are introducing bills that would make it more difficult for animal welfare advocates to investigate cruelty and food safety cases.
Will more agriculture reporting end up in the courtroom? Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/imageclectic/ Some rights reserved.
Various media organizations, including ABC's Nightline, have been focusing lately on continued efforts to restrict reporting on the agriculture industry.
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting says the trend of so-called "ag-gag laws" has been growing:
Since the 1990s, the agriculture industry has used various pieces of state-level legislation such as “Farm Protection” and “Agriculture Disparagement” laws to limit media.
Farm protection or “ag-gag” laws are crafted to limit access to agriculture facilities, and specifically restrict the use of audio and video recording of working agriculture operations.
60 Minutes vs. the apple industry. ABC vs. Food Lion. Oprah vs. the beef industry. This is nothing new. And many of these laws begun to be passed in the 1990s.
The laws generally fall under two categories:
The Gateway Journalism Review has a good summary of the legal history. It concludes:
There had been no cases under agriculture disparagement laws for more than 10 years. Those who believe these laws to be clear First Amendment violations saw that as a sign recognizing the laws’ unconstitutionality. The thought was that agriculture producers and associations may see the unlikelihood of winning a case under an agriculture disparagement law, and thus save money and time by not filing suit. To date, none of these laws has been repealed. They are all still on the books, waiting to be used…
Of course, I'm a little biased here, but restricting the media's ability to report on agriculture, or producing a "chilling effect" on reporters unwilling to take the risk of challenging a major corporation, seems to be bad for the public. But this is all part of a bigger chess match between journalism and big business.
Tags: agriculture, journalism, law, legal, media