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Another journalist anti-gag suit filed against public agency

The lawsuit is believed to be the second case brought by a journalist on this issue
12/19/2023


CONTACT:
Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, SPJ National President, ashanti.blaize@gmail.com
Kathryn Foxhall, SPJ Freedom of Information Advocate, 202-417-4572, kfoxhall@verizon.net
Kim Tsuyuki, SPJ Communications Specialist, ktsuyuki@hq.spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists congratulates the publishers of the Catskills-based “The Reporter” Randy and Kim Shepard for suing the Delaware County (New York) Board of Supervisors in response to them revoking the paper’s designation for the county’s legal advertising, allegedly due to news coverage the Board did not like.

According to the lawsuit, the County attorney banned employees from speaking to the newspaper about “pressing matters of public concern” at a later point and directed that all communications with the newspaper go through her office.

“These gag orders are among the most dangerous threats to free speech and the public’s right to know, as they prevent journalists from doing their jobs,” said SPJ National President Ashanti-Blaize Hopkins. “SPJ has repeatedly and consistently led in opposing these restrictions. It’s encouraging to see a second lawsuit brought forth challenging the silencing of journalists.”

The suit asserts, “The gag directive violates County employees’ First Amendment rights to speak on matters of public concern, as well as The Reporter’s First Amendment rights to receive newsworthy information from otherwise willing speakers.”

The attorneys in the New York case are the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic and Michael J. Grygiel. In the Pennsylvania case, the attorneys are the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Attorneys in both cases confirm the actions were inspired in significant part by work from First Amendment attorney Frank LoMonte on these gag rules, which SPJ has publicized widely.

In August, SPJ celebrated what is believed to be the first suit by a journalist against a public agency for policies prohibiting staff and contractors from speaking to the media without approval. Investigative journalist Brittany Hailer has sued the Allegheny County Jail, in Pittsburgh.

News coverage of the New York case is here and here. News coverage and other resources on the gag rules/ “Censorship by PIO” is here.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.

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