Indiana State Capital Building Dome I ndiana hopes to join Utah in making it a crime to step foot on farm or industrial operations and take videos or photographs without written permission from the owner.  Indiana’s proposed law makes no exception for the Press and should be rejected.

Laws against photographing farm operations are a response to animal rights activists taking surveillance videos and posting them to highlight claims of animal abuse. Utah passed a its Agricultural Operation Interference statute in 2012. A similar statute died in Florida’s House (after passing in the Senate) in 2011.

Today, Indiana’s Senate Bill 373 passed out of Committee and goes to the State Senate for debate. The Bill makes it unlawful for a person to “knowingly or intentionally” enter property used for agricultural or industrial operations and take photographs or videos of the property, structures on the property, or agricultural or industrial operations on the property without written permission of the owner or an authorized representative. The Bill makes exceptions for law enforcement and other government officials and land surveyors. It makes no exception for the Press.

The Bill, if passed as law, would make it a crime for a journalist to go undercover into a farm, ranch, vineyard, or lumber operation, a mine or a manufacturer, to report on conditions. It would bar the Press from alerting people to abuses from animal cruelty to child labor law violations, from unsafe mines to unsafe food. The Press could not do its job, and people cannot be informed, when reporting becomes a crime. Reporters have gone undercover for well over a century, unearthing abuses and, through their stories, making the world safer for workers and consumers.

In the 19th Century Nellie Bly wrote “Ten Days in a Madhouse,” an undercover expose of an insane asylum. The horrors she exposed led to a grand jury investigation and massive new funding for care of the insane. At the turn of the 20th Century Sinclar Lewis’ book “The Jungle” was published, exposing the horrors of the American meat industry, after he spent 7 weeks working undercover in Chicago meatpacking plants.

Undercover journalism continued in the 1960s and beyond. In 1969 Günter Wallraff went undercover in factories and pharmaceutical companies in Germany to expose the plight of immigrant labor. A decade later Merle Linda Wolin went undercover to report on Los Angeles’ garment industry, uncovering labor law violations, unsafe work conditions, physical abuse, and an environment of terror based upon threats of deportation. In the 1990s Donal MacIntyre went undercover in the UK to report on safety issues in the canoeing and adventure industry, after four schoolchildren drowned in a canoeing accident. In just the last year two undercover reporters broke big stories. Tracie McMillan investigated the American food industry from farm and vineyard to the grocery shelves. She discovered a system based upon cheap labor, industrialized food, and government subsidies, a system that pumps out low-quality food and broken bodies. A Chinese journalist went undercover in a factory producing iPhone 5s. He identified terrible work conditions and poor pay in an expose that forced Apple to make changes in its production. All of these reporters, from Nellie Bly to that brave Chinese journalist, would be labeled criminals under S.B. 373.

One role of Indiana’s Legislature is the promotion and protection of Indiana business. But another, far more important role, is the promotion and protection of the interests of Indiana’s citizens. Those interests include not just safety of food, wine, and industrial products, safety for workers  and consumers, but also the right of the Press to explore Indiana’s farms, vineyards, and industries, and the right of Indiana’s citizens to know what happens before grapes reach the bottle or corn, the table.

Palate Press, a magazine that focuses on a farm product, wine, has the utmost respect for hardworking farmers everywhere. We also know that hardworking farmers, from Napa Valley to the American heartland, respect the freedoms that have opened new opportunities. One of the most important of those is Freedom of the Press, and it should not be infringed.

Senate Bill 373, and all similar proposed laws, should be rejected.

5 Responses

  1. Jeff Frey

    Should I as a farmer have the right to trespass into a news room to uncover lies being printed or unsafe practices in the press rooms?

  2. David Honig
    David Honig

    Jeff, The issue is not one of “trespass.” The proposed bill is aimed at people on premises with permission, but shooting still or video without the owner’s knowledge. They are different issues. That said, if you are an invitee into the newsroom and uncover unsafe practices, I believe you should be permitted to report it.

  3. Chris

    This may not be the right answer to the problem of a lazy and irresponsible press, but it brings to light a legitimate concern. Fequently, civil attorneys utilize the press to create a story based on faulty science and business has alomost no recourse. Who believes the business defending itself when the press has presented a “victim”. Ask the bankrupt makers of silicone breast implants what an irresponsible press can do to a legitimate and safe business. A free press is essential, but there must be a balance, esspecially now when anyone with a blog huddles under the banner of the press.

  4. Andy

    This bill does not prohibit an individual from taking photos or video of suspected illegal activities on farms or in factories. It would be a misdemeanor if such evidence were not turned over to local law enforcement within 48 hours for swift corrective action.

  5. David Honig

    Andy, the Constitution assures freedom of the press. It does not forcibly deputized the press as law enforcement.