The National Press Photographers Association’s Advocacy Committee is reporting on a proposed Iowa law (HF 589) that “elevates editors and news organizations to the status of criminals if they publish, or even possess undercover footage of farms, crops or animal facilities.” This is no doubt an attempt to avoid some of the embarrassing videos chronicling supposed abuse of farm animals that have surfaced in recent years.
Specifically the bill states that “distribution or possession” of photographs that were illegally obtained (through violations of earlier portions of the bill). Under the proposed law, “A person is guilty of animal facility interference if the person. . . [p]ossess or distribute a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility which” is a “reproduction of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility, including but not limited to a photographic or audio medium” without the consent of the owner.
To give some perspective to the blatant unconstitutionality of this bill consider this – the only time that the Supreme Court has upheld a law that bans distribution and possession of any kind of photography it was a law against possessing and distributing child pornography. As powerful of a lobby farmers are, elevating exposes of farms to the level of child pornography is absurd and I can’t see how this would hold up. Just last year the Supreme Court ruled that a law banning possession and distribution of video of cruelty to animals was unconstitutional. See U.S. v. Stevens, 130 S.Ct. 1577 (2010). The intent of that law was to prevent animal cruelty but even it went too far (the NPPA signed an amicus brief advocating for the overturning of that bill).
The government can’t even prevent the possession and distribution of documents that put U.S. security interests at risk so it is hard to imagine how the public relations interests of farms would be considered more compelling than U.S. security interests.
I’m certainly no animal rights nut (on the contrary, I’m a proud omnivore, son of an Iowa pig farmer and an occasional hunter and fisherman), but this bill seems over the top to me. Iowa should respect the First Amendment right to freedom of the press.