Spotlight won Best Picture. Hooray for journalism!
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, we’re two months into a new law that targets investigative journalists and whistleblowers. It’s called the
Property Protection Act, and it’s arguably the most cowardly piece of legislation yet foisted upon the state by North Carolina’s bought-and-paid-for legislature. This is a bill so bad that Governor McCrory vetoed it. The legislature overrode his veto, and it became law January 1.
You likely know it as the “ag-gag” law, because its original intent was to silence those who sought to blow the whistle, via undercover recordings, on animal cruelty at factory-farm operations.
But that’s not good enough for Jones Street. Here, lawmakers have expanded the scope of that law to include businesses of all kinds. If you happen to observe a day care worker slapping little kids around, and you pull out your phone and document it, then share that video with your local newspaper, the day care owner can sue you for bad publicityup to $5,000 for each day you shot footage.
What you should have done, this bill’s proponents argue, is taken that video to the day care owner or to the appropriate overseeing state agency. Right.
The law, in other words, is a particularly brazen attempt by our elected officials to thwart the media’s ability to do its job. And they think they can get away with it because the media is an easy punching bag.
There’s a glimmer of hope that sunshine will prevail here. A federal judge in Idaho last year struck down a similar law. And in the Tar Heel State, in January, several groupsthe Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, the Government Accountability Project, and Public Justice among thembanded together and sued in federal court over the law.
Last week, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals joined that lawsuit. Robert Hensley, an attorney for ASPCA, cites the law’s “substantial impact on both the ASPCA’s ability to continue its work and the public’s ability to know where their food comes from” as the group’s motivation.
Exactly: Where your food comes from. Whether the dogs at the shelter are being treated humanely. Whether your grandma is being treated right at the nursing home.
Why do our state lawmakers believe these matters should be resolved behind closed doors, away from the public eye?