Cruelty to animals bill at odds with journalists


TN_HB_1191Legislation working its way through the General Assembly purports to improve the reporting of cruelty to animals but actually limits investigative reporting of such incidents regardless of who is reporting. And it comes in direct conflict with Tennessee’s Shield Law.

House Bill 1191 (Senate Bill 1248) requires that anyone photographing or taking videos of an act of animal cruelty as defined in TCA Section 39-14-202 is required to report the violation and submit any unedited photographs or video recordings to law enforcement authorities no later than the end of the next weekday.

I understand the sponsors’ efforts to limit the abilities of such organizations as the Humane Society of the United States and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to trash animal husbandry since agriculture remains one of the strongest sectors of the state’s economy.

And for lack of a better term, a state of war has existed for years between HSUS and the Tennessee walking horse industry.

A widely distributed Humane Society video report of soring and beating of walking horses by former walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell and two employees dealt a harsh blow to the image of the industry last year. McConnell entered into a plea agreement in federal court and was banned for life from walking horse industry associations for his violations of the federal Horse Protection Act.

Other livestock farmers across the state fear that any of them could be targeted by similar undercover video or photographic accounts of what HSUS or PETA may portray as abuse but which may well be standard stock farming practices.

But this legislation also places traditional newspaper and broadcast journalists on the horns of a dilemma since the bills do not differentiate between them and ordinary citizens or so-called animal rights advocates.

News reporters for broadcast news operations or newspapers do not judge situations or incidents they cover for stories. Instead, they rely upon law enforcement officers and district attorneys to determine if crimes have been committed and the journalists report those determinations. Judgment is left up to the courts.

Reporting all sides of a story, such as animal abuse, requires more than a photo or video. It requires confirmation by other sources on the record and requests for comment. It takes time to get the facts. Rushing to meet a legislative mandate can lead to costly mistakes.

Surrendering all unedited photos or video recordings also violates a basic journalism tenet held by most news organizations that do not allow dissemination of unpublished images. That is part of the shield law privilege in many states.


One thought on “Cruelty to animals bill at odds with journalists

  1. Rohit

    I am so glad you have questioned these nmrbeus! These days, I don’t trust anything that isn’t backed up with real data. Any time I see a number I ask where they got the information from, if they can’t back it up, I am not interested. It’s so easy to inflate a number, or just plain make it up. It’s much harder to do the research. It angers me that it destroys credibility for all animal welfare organizations and takes away from the actual abuse going on. If it turns out that all these oft-quoted nmrbeus are just fake, then people are going to question whether or not there is even such a thing as a puppy mill at all. It does a huge disservice to the cause.Great list for sure. I have no sympathy anymore for anyone who purchases a dog from someone they meet on the side of the road or in a parking lot. The information is out there and not hard to find. I wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes from the back of a car, why anyone thinks it’s cool to get a puppy this way I will never know.

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