AUGUSTA — A bill that would have changed the way the media handles court proceedings and some criminal matters was defeated Wednesday.

Described as an unconstitutional infringement on the press, the proposed “Stop Guilt By Accusation Act” bill was defeated by an 8-5 vote during a work session of the Judiciary Committee.

A public hearing on the bill, LD 923, was held last month.

The act would have forced media outlets to cover the outcomes of court proceedings with the same weight and on the same page as the original crime story, and remove mugshots from articles in certain cases, or face civil penalties.

The proposal was similar to bills that have been introduced in several states already, including New Hampshire and Rhode Island. In Maine, the measure was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Heidi Sampson of Alfred and co-sponsored by five other Republicans, including an Auburn representative.

Proponents of the bill had argued that the act would simply demand that the media do a complete job when covering sensational stories.

The act would allow defendants in criminal or civil cases whose accusations were covered by media outlets to petition those outlets to also cover the resolution of their cases.

The act also would have required the media to remove mugshots from digital publications if the defendant was later acquitted or received lighter punishment than sought by prosecutors.

Yet when the bill was first proposed, condemnation of it was swift.

Meagan Sway, policy director at the ACLU of Maine, said in March that “the government should never be telling journalists how to do their jobs. Accountability for ethical and responsible journalism must come from dialogue between journalists and the communities they cover. It cannot come from a coercive and unconstitutional government mandate.”

Others decried the proposal as unconstitutional, stressing that the U.S. Supreme Court has laid out clear lines related to freedom of the press — lines opponents say would be clearly violated by the act.

In addition to Sampson, the Maine lawmakers who co-sponsored the bill are: Sen. Paul Davis of Sangerville and Reps. Gary Drinkwater of Milford, Laurel Libby of Auburn, Sheila Lyman of Livermore Falls and Shelley Rudnicki of Fairfield.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.