There is a major misconception that laws exist governing what the press is allowed to publish.
All court rulings over the years have interpreted the First Amendment to mean no laws can be implemented that involve prior restraint of the press.
Even in areas of national security, courts have often sided with the press.
That’s why the continued efforts to restrict the publication of jail booking mugs is futile. The latest effort comes in legislation proposed by State Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton.
House Bill 408 is only supposed to target websites and publications that charge individuals a fee to have their booking mugs removed, but it will hinder media organizations from obtaining mug shots for legitimate news purposes.
It would also prohibit county sheriffs from providing a copy of a mug to a person “if the photograph will be placed in a publication or posted on a website that requires a payment in order to remove the photograph.”
And how is the sheriff supposed to know how the mug is going to be used? In this age of social media sharing and website scrubbing, who is going to trace the origin of the image once it is released?
This will only make sheriff’s offices more reluctant to release booking mugs.
The real catch, though, comes in language that applies to the news media. The law will require a person requesting a copy of a booking photograph to sign a statement that the photograph will not be placed in a publication or on a website that requires payment in order to remove the photograph. And it “provides a criminal penalty for a false statement.”
Here, the law tries to get around prior restraint rulings by indicating the penalty will be for making a false statement rather than publishing the photo. Requiring such a statement be signed is similar to government trying to license members of the media.
Courts have pretty much frowned on that. Government can restrict press access through passes and registration, but it can’t restrict content usage.
The bill may have good intentions, but it will only hinder the public’s right to know.
• BLOWING OUR HORN: Journalists try to get sources to feel comfortable while being interviewed or photographed. That way, they get better responses and natural images.
For reporters, this may mean talking about a subject, such as sports or the weather, unrelated to the news interview. For photographers, it can mean just trying to blend into the surroundings.
Sometimes, reporters can just be themselves and treat the interview like any social conversation.
And sources usually appreciate this.
One person was so impressed with how the reporter and photographer helped her feel at ease during an interview that she wrote to tell us about it:
“Dana Remington and Nick Short were so professional and easy to work with for my story. (‘North Salt Lake mother picks up trombone after 24 years’ — March 6). Dana had well thought out questions prepared and was very excited for me. It made our conversation feel like friends catching up.
“Nick was very pleasant and worked with me closing my eyes from the distraction of the camera clicking. He never told me not to close my eyes but he got some great shots in spite of it! Thanks so much for doing a feature story on my trombone playing. It’s been very fun. Sincerely, Denise M. Nelson.”
Dana is one of our freelance correspondents, and Nick is a longtime photographer/videographer.
• COLUMNIST CARE: Retiring Wasatch Rambler columnist Charles F. Trentelman had surgery Thursday at McKay-Dee Hospital related to ongoing problems with pneumonia he has been battling since Christmas. I’m happy to report he is feeling much better. However, he will remain in the hospital until Tuesday.
“They actually found two of those abscesses on my lung, and it was a 4-hour job scraping them off,” he told me in an email from his hospital bed. “But the doctor seems happy with his work, and if he’s happy, I’m happy.”
I actually saw him Friday, and he was in good spirits. You can email well-wishes to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or email@example.com.