Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ky. State Police try to keep local news media from reporting on investigations until KSP gives them green (blue?) light

Here's another timely story for Sunshine Week, which celebrates government transparency and the role of the news media in keeping the government honest:

A Kentucky State Police spokesperson recently caused a stir when he told two rural news outlets that they need to wait until the KSP issues press releases before publishing anything about ongoing investigations, Will Wright reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The officer wrote in an email to the Barbourville Mountain Advocate and Pineville radio station WRIL:"From this point forward when KSP is working an investigation, you are to wait until OUR (KSP) press release is sent out before putting anything out on social media, radio, and newspaper. No more posting inaccurate information from Sheriffs or anyone else. I don't care to confirm something and then get a release out later. [On] authority of my supervisors, if this continues, you will be taken off our media distribution list."

Jon Fleischaker, general counsel for the Kentucky Press Association, told the Herald-Leader the order violates the First Amendment, and that state agencies cannot withhold information "just because they don’t like what the media outlet is writing," Wright reports.

KSP Capt. Ryan Catron said the police do not plan to withhold information from the Advocate or WRIL, and that the email was meant to encourage news organizations to wait for accurate information before publishing stories.

Mountain Advocate Editor Charles Myrick wrote that that the weekly has a strong relationship with KSP and that while he appreciates the sacrifices law-enforcement officers make to keep people safe, "Part of keeping the public safe is an open forum of communication, and that’s what we do. An attempt to silence the media is not only a breach of the First Amendment, but a slap in the face of any effort to keep our public safe."

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