MT House considers bill to impose penalties on media for not fully covering court proceedings

HELENA, Mont. - Coverage of the courts…that is what would change if Montana lawmakers pass a bill requiring media outlets to provide equal time to both sides of a case. 

Here is the bottom line, if someone is accused of robbing a bank and the local media reports on it, the press would be legally obligated to report on the outcome of the court case, and potentially remove all mug shots if the person is found not convicted.

Rep. Mark Noland's (R-Bigfork) "Stop Guilt by Accusation Act" would require someone accused of a crime to get a hold of the local media within 20 days of the outcome of the court case and demand they remove any mug shot as well as update a story. 

Rep. Noland could not show an example in the committee hearing this morning where any Montana media hasn't done this but instead said he's looking to educate the media for the future.

"So if we can help the media, we set some guidelines for them, and then they can just follow those and be truth-telling," Noland said.

Rep. Noland added he has concerns specifically over defamation cases and wants to hold the media accountable for reporting false claims.

"Certain segments of the media that align with their ideology would serve as accomplices by engaging in a form of defamation in-kind by selectively reporting on the facts of the original case," Noland said.

The hearing for the bill itself only lasted about 20 minutes and featured no testimony for either side. 

One other interesting note though, there is a part in the bill that describes who is immune from this legislation and it would be news outlets that already publish satire or parody-type stories.

Right now, there is talk of whether or not this is legal or constitutional. 

Legislative Services says if passed, this bill could find itself in its own courtroom. As for what is next it will be heard on the House floor next week.

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