You might not have noticed, but the News Media Alliance’s website has a cool little tool called LawView. It provides an excellent resource for the general public – and more personalized and detailed reports for Alliance members – interested in developments regarding state and federal legislation affecting the news media. We offer an interactive map, the State Legislation Tracker (provided by Tableau, powered by FiscalNote) that lets the user shift between state and issue, as well as detailed reports we send to members in our policyXchange biweekly newsletters for newspaper members.
LawView tracks state and federal bills that would affect news media publishers. Currently, we’re following legislative proposals falling in one of eight different topics as they pertain to news media: drones, online political ad disclosure, anti-SLAPP, federal, public notices, Freedom of Information Act, First Amendment and telemarketing. We can add any issues that members are interested in – it’s truly a member-driven tool. In addition, we keep track of recently enacted laws. In the map, users can view bills by topic or by state, and can also click on any bill to see more detailed information about it, including its status, sponsors, description and the full text of the bill.
The categories we’re following represent some of the varied issues modern media companies and journalists need to deal with on a daily basis. Drones are used more and more in newsgathering. Political ads have moved largely online, and particularly considering the recent news concerning alleged foreign interference in our last elections, states and the federal government are exceedingly interested in regulating online political ads, and these regulations directly affect news companies publishing such ads on their websites. Similarly, the telemarketing and First Amendment categories are relatively self-explanatory, with First Amendment dealing with laws affecting the very heart of news media – speech and press freedom – and telemarketing laws regulating how news media companies can reach out to their potential customers. Find out more about what we’re doing on all of these issues by visiting the Advocacy page of the Alliance website.
The Freedom of Information Act has a major effect on how journalists gather information and can act as a watchdog against the misuse and abuse of power. Without FOIA requests, many government documents, state and federal, would remain secret or inaccessible. For example, access to police camera recordings can affect how the police conduct themselves when dealing with the public – and, as our LawView tool shows, Michigan is currently considering a bill that would exempt from disclosure certain audio and video recordings made by law enforcement officers.
Similar to free speech bills, anti-SLAPP bills promote free speech by protecting news outlets and journalists against blackmail and intimidation. The so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law aims to deter people or news organizations from publishing critical pieces by intimidating them with a lawsuit. While these lawsuits do not, by definition, have merit, they would require the defendant to spend potentially thousands of dollars in legal fees. As a consequence, many states are now adopting anti-SLAPP statutes that would criminalize such lawsuits.
Public notice statutes, on the other hand, regulate requirements for how state and federal governments need to inform citizens about upcoming hearings, regulations, events, changes to zoning plans and other issues of public interest. Not only can these notifications – printed in the local newspaper – provide important information for the general public (that they would otherwise have to find from government websites), they also provide valuable additional income to often local newspapers who perform such a vital role in our democracy.
The LawView State Legislation Tracker is updated multiple times a week, and provides an easy and accessible way of monitoring what is happening across the nation, from Florida to Alaska. Otherwise, would you have known that the state of North Dakota recently enacted a bill stating that an expression of free speech made by a student journalist cannot be construed as an expression of school policy? Or that the Massachusetts State House is currently considering a law strengthening the state’s anti-SLAPP statute?
Considering the immense effect these issues can have on the news media both locally and nationally, it is important to stay up to date on what the Congress and your local state legislature is doing. Bookmark the LawView page and check regularly for updates, and be sure to look out for the policyXchange newsletter in your inbox.
Johannes Munter is an outside consultant for the News/Media Alliance.