State Restriction of Blogs

The Great Falls Leaderless apparently received a warning from the State after they investigated. My information tells me that the Great Falls Tribune turned the whole matter into the State for investigation. Nice, the Free Speech Warriors!

Of a concern to us, though, is that in hassling the Leaderless, the State referred to MCA Sec. 13-35-225. It says: “All communications advocating the success or defeat of a candidate, political party, or ballot issue through any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising facility, direct mailing, poster, handbill, bumper sticker, internet website, or other form of general political advertising must clearly and conspicuously include the attribution "paid for by" followed by the name and address of the person who made or financed the expenditure for the communication.”

In other words, it arguably applies to blogs. So, one might suggest that this means no more anonymous blogging, at least on political matters. If the Tribune dislikes the Leaderless, you can be sure they dislike the local blogs that have often been highly critical of the Tribune. So it certainly is not a stretch to think that they might seek enforcement of the state law against bloggers.

Ahh, but is the law constitutional? Probably not.

In Talley v. California, the US Supreme Court found a ban on anonymous handbills unconstitutional. The Court said “Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all…It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.”

The Courts of many states, including Florida, Idaho, California, New York, and Ohio have found similar restrictions on anonymous speech to be unconstitutional as violations of the peoples’ First Amendment rights.

So, you tell us. Who is right? Justice Hugo Black of the US Supreme Court, and the primary appellate courts of numerous states who find that we have every right in the world to complain anonymously?

Or is it a bunch of journalists and small state politicians cluck clucking about folks who might dare to criticize government and the newspaper’s reporting of it?

I think I’ll go with the US Supreme Court and the founders of our country. But on the larger question, shouldn’t the “Fourth Estate” be protecting our rights? Shouldn’t our elected officials be protecting our rights?

P.S. David, at GreaterFalls, started the discussion about this issue.


a-fire-fly said...

"internet website, or other forms of general political advertising"

And can a blog really be considered "advertising"? And what are we claiming to have paid for? The only thing I pay for is Internet service, and the only people that read my blog chose to go to it.
It also really bothers me that the Tribune seems to be promoting this debate when newspapers have always been at the forfront of the free speech debates. Real jouralists seek to protect the voice of the oppressed, not strangle it for...?

SallyT said...

"...advocating the success or defeat of a candidate, political party, or ballot issue through any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, ..."

So how about the anonymous Trib endorsements of candidates before elections? Or the local newscasts giving Max & the Kaiser so much face time?

Wouldn't these be violations? Or am I just splitting hairs?