law

Local press file free speech suit

THE Rhode Island Press Association and the publisher of the Warwick Beacon filed suit on Wednesday challenging a state law that ‘has been interpreted to bar the media from running advertisements containing the names and photographs of public officials without their permission.’
Posted 1/5/12

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Press Association and the publisher of the Warwick Beacon filed suit on Wednesday challenging a state law that “has been interpreted to bar the media from running advertisements containing the names and photographs of public officials without their permission.”

The suit came following a specific incident at the Warwick Beacon. Warwick resident Robert Cote placed an ad in the newspaper criticizing City Council President Bruce Place and Mayor Scott Avedisian, and included their names and photos.

According to Beacon Publisher John Howell and a news release from the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Place threatened to sue the newspaper under the statute that says that anyone “whose name, portrait, or picture is used within the state for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without his or her written consent may bring action in the superior court.”

The ACLU contends that the statute was not meant to cover political advertising, but rather in relation to the sale of products or services, and that the statute is “unconstitutionally vague.”

“We found it extraordinary, given the rights afforded by the Constitution’s First Amendment, that an elected official should challenge the use of his name and photograph in an advertisement,” said Howell in a statement.

“If this were allowed to stand, it would seem that political advertising could become the subject of litigation that could stifle public discourse and give the candidate with the greatest resources the ability to suppress criticism,” Howell said.

Editor’s note: PBN Editor Mark S. Murphy is the current president of the Rhode Island Press Association.

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