UPDATE: We are thrilled to report that the KSP has rescinded its unconstitutional order. Details here.
RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force are calling on Kentucky State Police Commissioner Richard W. Sanders to rescind an order that attempts to compel journalists not to report on matters under KSP investigation until the agency has issued an official press release.
In a March 12 letter to Commissioner Sanders, RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley wrote:
Such an order is, on its face, in direct contravention of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. … Any time the efforts of journalists are restricted it is not those journalists who are the victims. Rather, it is the public – in this case the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, whom you are sworn to protect and serve – that becomes the victim because it is being denied information to which it is constitutionally entitled.
In an email sent March 2 to The Mountain Advocate newspaper in Barbourville, Ky., and to radio station WRIL in Pineville, Ky., KSP Troop 10 Public Affairs Officer Shane Jacobs said, “From this point forward when KSP is working an investigation, you are to wait until OUR (KSP) press release is sent out before putting anything out on social media, radio, and newspaper. … Authority of my supervisors, if this continues, you will be taken off our media distribution list.”
In an article published March 8 by the Lexington Herald-Ledger, Troop 10 Commander Capt. Ryan Catron – Jacobs’ supervisor – defended the order, telling the newspaper, “We want to work with all media outlets. ... We’re not trying to withhold any information from them. We’re asking that they wait until they get our press releases before they put anything out.”
When asked specifically whether the KSP might actually remove news organizations from its media distribution list if they did not wait for the agency’s press releases, Catron responded that he would not “speculate on what would happen in the future.”
Kentucky State Police Troop 10 is headquartered in Harlan, in southeastern Kentucky and its jurisdiction covers three counties. Journalists in other parts of the state have indicated they have not received any orders such as Jacobs’.
“This order is outrageous because it’s not just a case of unconstitutional prior restraint; it’s a case of prior-prior restraint. The KSP is telling journalists they can’t report information they may already have regarding cases currently under investigation by the state police and is ordering them not to report on information that may become known to them in the future,” Shelley said.
“We stand with the Kentucky Press Association in protesting the order and urge other national press freedom advocacy group to join the chorus of those who wish to protect the right – and need – of members of the public to know what is occurring in their communities,” he added.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. RTDNA is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats against press freedom in America. Reach out to RTDNA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.