CONCORD, N.H. — A state representative from Brookline is proposing a law to require New Hampshire media outlets to update stories concerning residents' criminal history or face liability.
According to House Bill 1157 “the failure of a New Hampshire news media organization to update, retract, or correct an internet published story concerning a criminal proceeding against a named person, immediately following written notification of the media organization by the injured person of a subsequent finding of not guilty, acquittal, or dismissal of the charges against such person in a criminal proceeding, shall result in the liability of the New Hampshire news media organization for any damages incurred by the person caused by such failure.”
Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline, sponsored the bill, explaining that news stories on the internet have the ability to haunt people for years because of a Google search.
“I’m not trying to protect the guilty,” Flanagan said. “The bigger thing here, what I really want to do, is get the full story.”
The New Hampshire Press Association and its member outlets — including The Eagle-Tribune and its sister paper The Derry News — oppose the legislation, calling it unconstitutional.
"It's pretty clear, it's patently unconstitutional," said Executive Director Phil Kincade. "Courts have ruled government cannot compel (the press) to print anything. It's a right of the publishers and editors to publish what they want," Kincade said.
The New Hampshire Press Association voted unanimously at a meeting last week to oppose this legislation, Kincade said.
Flanagan said he proposed the legislation because he was approached by some constituents who had issues with their criminal history being published. Flanagan declined identify those constituents.
He said each person attempted to get articles amended, but had varying levels of difficulty doing so.
“They went through and had the case dismissed, and they were exonerated. One (newspaper) ran another story and one didn’t do anything,” Flanagan said.
The law requires individuals who have been written about to bring proof to a media organization so that the story can be updated, he said.
Flanagan explained, “It could be as simple as an editor’s note at the beginning of the story.”
Flanagan knows he will face opposition on the legislation.
“I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, because it’s dealing with the Constitution,” Flanagan said.
Though Flanagan said that he would argue this is not “abridging” the freedom of the press, which is the exact language used in the Constitution. Instead, he said, he is just asking for the full story.
Citing his 40 years of newspaper experience in New Hampshire, Kincade said that typically, if someone brought the former editor information about an update in their criminal history, he would update a story. He said he believes other editors and publishers would do the same.
"It's not in the interest of newspapers to have inaccurate information out there," he said, adding that this has become an issue since the advent of the interment.
As written, the bill also leaves the question as to who would choose which way to update a story, Kincade said. He has seen many people not satisfied with an update and instead insist on a retraction of the story.
"We are not in the business of rewriting history," Kincade said.
He added that because this law would pertain only to New Hampshire media outlets, if a national news outlet or law enforcement agency were to publish the same information that it would not have the same requirements and the information would still be out there.
"The bill wouldn't even accomplish what it seeks to accomplish if it were to become a law," Kincade said.
The Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on HB 1157 on Wednesday morning at 11:30 a.m. Kincade said representatives from the New Hampshire Press Association would be at the meeting to voice its opposition.
In order for the legislation to take effect it would have to be passed by both the New Hampshire House of Representatives and the Senate and be signed by the governor.