Journalists fight misguided animal cruelty restraints


The Supreme Court is being asked to rule that any depiction of animal cruelty be criminalized. The RTNDA and other journalist organizations argue that such a rule would make it impossible to cover cruelty as news, ironically eliminating the kind of public exposure that helps in the battle against such cruelty.

The intent of the law being examined is to eliminate the depiction of animal cruelty used as a form of fetishistic pornography, ruling that it is a legitimate constraint on First Amendment rights. But RTNDA and others fear it goes too far.

Kathleen Kirby, RTNDA’s First Amendment counsel, and partner at Wiley Rein LLP in Washington, said “We don’t take issue with the fact that the goal of preventing crush videos and other animal cruelty is certainly a worthy one, but argue that it is this very interest in protecting animals from abuse that makes speech about their treatment so valuable. The brief points out that media outlets ‘often expose the abuse of animals, participate in the national debate over the proper treatment of them, and cover commonplace activities involving animals such as hunting and fishing.’ But the law compromises the news media’s ability to perform any of these functions without fear of prosecution.”

RTNDA is joined by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of News Editors, and the Society of Environmental Journalists in filing the brief with the Supreme Court.

RBR/TVBR observation: One of the biggest stories in recent years on this topic was the Michael Vick dog-fighting case. This is important information that needs to be made public. If the press is not permitted to effectively expose such activity, it stays underground, out of the spotlight and tragically active. This is yet further evidence that it is rarely a good idea to tamper with the First Amendment.