When a political Tweet crosses the line into defamation

By John C. Henegan Sr.

2016 henegan, john
John C. Henegan Sr.

United States Supreme Court Justice William Brennan traced the history of public debate about political affairs in our nation in 1964 in the landmark decision New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, concluding that public officials could recover for defamatory statements about their conduct in public office only if they could prove that the statements were false and that the speaker subjectively knew that they were false. In Sullivan, he famously wrote that in our country there is “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” permitting “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” In the most recent presidential campaign and the first year of his term of office President Trump has vigorously exercised this principle in social media such as Twitter when responding to his critics.

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Court to public officials who would meet in private: Don’t

By Layne Bruce

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Layne Bruce

It was a long, rainy summer across much of the state.

But September brought with it cooler temperatures and lots of sunshine – both literally and metaphorically.

Just as we in Jackson started to enjoy one of the longest sustained periods of mild, sunny weather in months came news the State Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the Columbus City Council violated the Mississippi Open Meetings Act.

It was a unanimous 9-0 vote, no less. Talk about a win for sunshine laws.

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Politely refuting the ‘liberal bias’ label

By Al Cross

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Al Cross

Last month I shared the story of a community newspaper editor who showed an effective way to respond to concerns of readers, often not politely expressed, that his newspaper was liberally biased. Brian Hunt of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin is an experienced editor, but an intern at a Kentucky weekly newspaper took a very similar approach in a manner that was just as professional. Here’s an adapted version of our report on The Rural Blog:

Josh Qualls was having difficulty finding a source to help him explain how the House health-insurance bill might affect seniors on Medicaid in Lincoln County, Kentucky, where he recently completed a summer internship with The Interior Journal in Stanford. So he went to the Boone Newspapers weekly’s Facebook page.

“The very first response echoed some of the most disheartening, gut-wrenching rhetoric we’ve seen directed toward journalists in recent months. Its author offered a scathing indictment of the news media and accused us of being liberally biased,” Qualls wrote in his intern report to the Kentucky Press Association, relying on memory because the poster had deleted the post. “She talked about how much ‘Obamacare’ didn’t help her health-hindered family, so I saw a way to connect with her.”

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CJR article errs in assessment of public notice, newspapers

By Richard Karpel

Karpel, Richard
Richard Karpel

In a recent article in Columbia Journalism Review, Liena Zagare and Ben Smith argue that local governments should move public notice and other civic advertising from newspapers to local-news websites like their own BKLYNER.

To buttress their case, they claim that a newspaper in their borough, the Brooklyn Eagle, recently had “three of its 12 pages entirely covered” by advertising designed to “make sure taxpayers see how their money is being spent, and to prevent officials from hiding corrupt deals.” But those three pages of advertising in the Eagle were placed by law firms, not public officials. And its purpose was to provide official notice of courtroom process, not public spending. That’s a pretty glaring mistake. Surely, CJR would want to correct the record, right?

We thought so too, but CJR disagrees.

However, we’re less interested in CJR’s editorial policy than in what the mistake illustrates about the authors’ understanding of public notice: It is sorely lacking. And people who write about subjects they know little about tend to spread misinformation, which is what Zagare and Smith have done.

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New law on liquor ads takes effect July 1

By John C. Henegan Sr.

2016 henegan, john
John Henegan

In the exercise of its powers under the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution, the State Legislature recently amended the state law regulating liquor advertising and signage, Miss. Code § 67-1-85 (2016).

Under the current law it is unlawful for a newspaper in a “dry” municipality, county, or judicial district to publish liquor advertising even if the advertising only appears in papers only distributed in a “wet” municipality, county, or judicial district.

The title to S.B. No. 2345 sums up the change:  The new law “DELETE[S] THE PROVISION THAT MAKES IT UNLAWFUL FOR ANY ADVERTISEMENT OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES TO ORIGINATE IN ANY MUNICIPALITY, COUNTY OR JUDICIAL DISTRICT WHICH HAS NOT VOTED TO LEGALIZE THE SALE OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES . . . .”

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Concerns rise that ‘big media’ problems affect local media too

By Al Cross

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Al Cross

Trust in “the mass media, such as newspapers, TV and radio” in polls taken by the Gallup Organization was at 32 percent last year, the lowest ever – and was significantly lower than the 40 percent recorded in 2015. Rural newspapers have often presumed that such trends don’t affect them, because they’re in closer touch with smaller communities, where readers know the people at the paper. That is not as safe an assumption as it once was, based on some events, trends and issues we’ve reported lately in The Rural Blog.

For example, a Feb. 5-6 Emerson College poll of registered voters, weighted to reflect turnout in the 2016 election, found them evenly divided about the Trump administration’s truthfulness, but by 53 to 39 percent, they considered the news media untruthful.

The Pew Research Center found in early 2016 that there was little difference in the trust of local and national news outlets. About 22 percent of Americans said they trust local news outlets a lot, and 18 percent said that of national news sources. Recently, rural and community journalists have voiced concern that the attacks on “big media” are hurting “little media,” too.

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‘Fake news’ rally cry arrives in Mississippi

By Charlie Mitchell

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Charlie Mitchell

OXFORD — State Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) has his toga in a knot because a Delta newspaper publisher offered his opinion — opinion — that Gipson, who chairs House Judiciary B, went too far in mixing religion and public policy.

On a Facebook page (Mississippi Responsible Journalism Initiative) he launched earlier this month, Gipson says the column by Ray Mosby of Rolling Fork’s Deer Creek Pilot, pushed him into action. Gipson said he will spearhead a quest enlisting citizens to expose journalists who fail to verify facts before publishing.

Last week, Gipson said 28,000 people, similarly fed up, had signed on. (Note: This figure is being repeated without verification.)

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