Recently, the public was outraged by undercover videos taken in factory farms showing abuse of animals. While many legislators would see such videos and think of ways to force better conditions for animals, state Sen. Travis Holdman, a Republican from Markle, Ind., had a different reaction: make such videos by whistleblowers and journalists a crime.
This is the latest move to criminalize more conduct in the United States. I have criticized this trend in columns (here and here) and numerous blogs on the criminalization of using artificial turf to growing vegetable gardens to eating french fries in the subway.
Notably, torts already protect companies from trespass, even against news organizations. However, this does not include publication damages as a general rule. In Food Lion v. ABC , a store was shown in an undercover segment engaging in unsanitary techniques and accused Food Lion of selling rat-gnawed cheese, meat that was past its expiration date and old fish and ham that had been washed in bleach to kill the smell. Food Lion denied the allegations and sued ABC for trespass. A jury ruled against ABC and awarded Food Lion punitive damages for the investigation involving ABC journalists lying on their application forms and assuming positions under false pretenses (here). The Fourth Circuit however wiped out the punitive damage award while upholding the verdicts of trespass and breach of loyalty with awards of only $1 for each.
The new law in Indiana would make such videos a crime and allow a second such violation to be charged as a Class A misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $5,000 fine. Holdman truly found a home with industry lobbyists and portrayed animal rights whistleblowers and journalists as nothing more than “vigilantes” and refused to even acknowledge that they are either working to protect animals or inform the public: “We don’t need vigilantes out entering people’s private property, industrial operation, factory or farm, doing things surreptitiously … for no other reason than to annoy and harass.”
Strangely, he cited a story of a farmer in his district as the reason for the bill. The farmer reported that someone making a delivery had taken a picture of his phone. But then nothing happened. No embarrassment, no publication, no record that it occurred. However, that was enough for Holdman, he claims, to try to criminalize the work of journalists and whistleblowers.
What is particularly astonishing is that the Committee heard from a spokesman for Rose Acre Farms, which complained that it lost business after the Humane Society of the United States posted a video showing shocking conditions at their facilities. That would seem to be an excellent reason to support such whistleblowers but the Senators sat in open concern and shock for the company. There were no doubt gasps as Joe Miller, Rose Acre’s general counsel, recounted that 50 customers indicated that they might not want to do business with such a company and “that would have devastated our business.”
Thank God there are Travis Holdmans out there to protect such companies threatened by the exposure of animal abuse.
As you noted imagine, Holdman’s rankings show just a 10% score on civil liberties but 100% from conservative and business groups. He is an attorney and former prosecutor in Indiana.
Source: Indy Star