Q: An incumbent officeholder is pressuring me to publish his paid political advertisement well past our press deadline. Also, the ad contains false or unsubstantiated allegations against his opponent. Am I required to publish the ad?
A: First, think about the doctrine of fair play. If you overrule your press deadline to accommodate one candidate, you arguably have given him a break that you could not extend to other candidates.
Second, think about the First Amendment. No one has the power to force you to publish anything against your wishes. The Freedom Forum Institute addresses this under the headline, “Can a Newspaper Refuse to Run a Letter or Advertisement?” Here it is, reprinted with permission:
Yes, newspapers do have a First Amendment right to refuse letters to the editor and ads. Since they are privately owned entities whose editors have editorial control, they are free to promote whatever political, social or economic view they wish.
The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of editorial control and freedom of the press in 1974 in the case Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241. This case concerned a Florida political candidate who brought suit against The Miami Herald pursuant to the state’s “right-to-reply” statute after the paper refused to print the candidate’s reply to editorials critical of him. The statute in question required a newspaper to provide equal space to a political candidate to reply to any criticism of the candidate’s personal character or official record printed by the newspaper. The Supreme Court found the statute to be unconstitutional in that it violated the First Amendment right to a free press.
The Court wrote:
“A newspaper is more than a passive receptacle or conduit for news, comment, and advertising. The choice of material to go into a newspaper, and the decisions made as to limitations on the size and content of the paper, and treatment of public issues and public officials — whether fair or unfair — constitute the exercise of editorial control and judgment. It has yet to be demonstrated how governmental regulation of this crucial process can be exercised consistent with First Amendment guarantees of a free press as they have evolved to this time.”
Q: A law enforcement officer allegedly was present when an arrested person died in custody. I am writing a public information request for any written communications, digital or on paper. There is no investigation of the matter pending. My question is, should I write the request for records of all communications pertaining to the death within a certain time frame?
A: You could do that. Or, if you want to narrow the request to increase the chances of getting a prompt response, you could name the officers whose digital and written communications might yield information that turns out to be relevant and reportable.
Q: Do online political ads need to carry the disclaimer or disclosure language, Pd. Pol. Adv. by ________?
A: “Political advertising includes communications that appear on an Internet website.” That sentence is from the Texas Ethics Commission’s publication, Political Advertising: What You Need to Know.
Q: We’re working a story about our hospital district’s failure to give public notice of a hearing on a proposal to increase taxes. I want the story to include a quote from Texas Press Association. Who at TPA can we talk to and get a quote from?
A: TPA Executive Vice President Donnis Baggett comments on matters that have to do with governmental bodies and our state’s open government laws: the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act, and other issues pertaining to the newspaper industry.
Q: I need to figure out if our local governmental bodies’ notices of bond elections contain all of the information they are supposed to contain. At least one of them wants us to run a truncated version of what’s been published in the past. Is there a resource on that?
A: The Office of the Comptroller has documents that show what bond election notices must contain for cities and counties, school districts, small taxing units, water districts and all other taxing units. See:
Q: I know you have responded to other members’ questions about raffle advertising. Here is mine: One of our town’s civic clubs is going to have what they plan to call a “drawing” and they want me to put an ad promoting it in my newspaper. What information can you give me to share with the civic club?
A: The Texas Occupations Code prohibits the promotion of a raffle or drawing through paid advertising. Please read and share the following references with any organization that asks to advertise a raffle or drawing in your newspaper.
1. Open this link to the Charitable Raffle Enabling Act’s section about advertising, Occupations Code 2002.054:
2. Make sure to read carefully the paragraph titled “Restrictions” after you open this link to the Texas Attorney General’s publication about charitable raffles: