(San Francisco, CA) An ongoing battle in US Federal Court to have meaningful access to document wild horses removed from public land has been joined by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Press Photographers Association and thirteen other news media organizations. Laura Leigh, journalist for Horseback Magazine and founder of Wild Horse Education, began the legal action almost four years ago when her access to document the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro program became unreasonably restrictive following her publication of material unfavorable to government actions.
“I have spent the last four years trying to tell the story of the wild horse on the range, during capture and in holding,” stated Leigh “I have been met with restrictions at every turn, even as the BLM touts its program as ‘transparent.’ This struggle to document wild horses has taken years and hundreds of thousands of miles; real transparency is long overdue.”
From the onset of this case that has gone up and down the court system and now heads back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Leigh has been represented by attorney Gordon Cowan of Reno.
“Without the First Amendment democracy fails,” stated Cowan “It is truly an honor to have so many outstanding members of the US press stand with us to defend this essential American principal.”
The case is now awaiting assignment of a trial date.
Excerpt of Amici Curiae brief:
“The public has a right to see what happens during wild horse roundups on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Because of their remote location, the only effective way for the public to monitor BLM’s activities is through visual recordings by media representatives such as plaintiff- appellant Laura Leigh. Although the court below correctly recognized that there is a public and press right of access to such activities, it gave excessive weight to the Government’s justifications for limiting access to the horse gathers. In particular, it afforded too much discretion to the Government to decide whether observing the gathers was safe, without recognizing that journalists routinely – and critically – face far more dangerous situations on a regular basis without official interference or protection. In its holding, the court below denied meaningful public and press access to the horse roundups, while sustaining unconstitutional restrictions on such access. The lower court’s decision should be reversed.”
WildHorseEducation.org is a Nevada non-profit devoted to gaining protection for wild horses and burros from abuse, slaughter and extinction. The organization currently carries four active actions in federal court against government actions in the management of wild horses and burros on public land including actions that granted the first Preliminary Injunction in history to inappropriate conduct and this vital First Amendment action.
IDENTITY OF AMICI AND INTEREST IN THE CASE
Amici, on behalf of the journalists that they represent, have an interest in upholding the public’s right of access to public places for the purpose of newsgathering and informing the public on matters of public concern. This interest is particularly strong in cases in which restrictions on public access compromise the ability of the press to fulfill its constitutional obligation to hold the government accountable to the people through reporting on governmental actions. The district court’s order refusing injunctive relief is of concern to amici because it gives excessive weight to the Government’s justifications for limiting access to the horse gathers, and insufficient weight to the right of access to such activities.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is a voluntary, unincorporated association of reporters and editors that works to defend the First Amendment rights and freedom of information interests of the news media. The Reporters Committee has provided representation, guidance and research in First Amendment and Freedom of Information Act litigation since 1970.
The National Press Photographers Association (“NPPA”) is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of visual journalism in its creation, editing and distribution. NPPA’s almost 7,000 members include video and still photographers, editors, students and representatives of businesses that serve the visual journalism industry. Since its founding in 1946, the NPPA has vigorously promoted the constitutional rights of journalists as well as freedom of the press in all its forms, especially as it relates to visual journalism.
With some 500 members, American Society of News Editors (“ASNE”) is an organization that includes directing editors of daily newspapers throughout the Americas. ASNE changed its name in April 2009 to American Society of News Editors and approved broadening its membership to editors of online news providers and academic leaders. Founded in 1922 as American Society of Newspaper Editors, ASNE is active in a number of areas of interest to top editors with priorities on improving freedom of information, diversity, readership and the credibility of newspapers.
The Association of American Publishers, Inc. (“AAP”) is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. AAP’s members include most of the major commercial book publishers in the United States, as well as smaller and nonprofit publishers, university presses and scholarly societies. AAP members publish hardcover and paperback books in every field, educational materials for the elementary, secondary, postsecondary and professional markets, scholarly journals, computer software and electronic products and services. The Association represents an industry whose very existence depends upon the free exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Battle Born Media LLC publishes weekly newspapers in rural Nevada, including the Ely Times, Eureka Sentinel, Lincoln County Record and the Mineral County Independent.
First Amendment Coalition is a nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to defending free speech, free press and open government rights in order to make government, at all levels, more accountable to the people. The Coalition’s mission assumes that government transparency and an informed electorate are essential to a self-governing democracy. To that end, we resist excessive government secrecy (while recognizing the need to protect legitimate state secrets) and censorship of all kinds.
The National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists. Founded in 1908, the Club has 3,100 members representing most major news organizations. The Club defends a free press worldwide. Each year, the Club holds over 2,000 events, including news conferences, luncheons and panels, and more than 250,000 guests come through its doors.
NPR: A privately supported, not-for-profit membership organization, NPR serves a growing audience of more than 26 million listeners each week by providing news programming to 285 member stations that are independently operated, noncommercial public radio stations. In addition, NPR provides original online content and audio streaming of its news programming. NPR.org offers hourly newscasts, special features and 10 years of archived audio and information.
The Nevada Press Association is the formal trade organization for the newspaper industry in Nevada. It is a voluntary non-profit organization that represents 7 daily and 35 weekly newspapers in Nevada and the Lake Tahoe region of Northern California, as well as two online news services.
The Reno Gazette-Journal, published by Reno Newspapers, Inc., is a daily newspaper serving northern Nevada. The newspaper also operates a website serving its readers at http://www.rgj.com.
The Seattle Times Company, locally owned since 1896, publishes the daily newspaper The Seattle Times, together with The Issaquah Press, Yakima Herald-Republic, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Sammamish Review and Newcastle-News, all in Washington state.
Stephens Media LLC is a nationwide newspaper publisher with operations from North Carolina to Hawaii. Its largest newspaper is the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Student Press Law Center (“SPLC”) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization which, since 1974, has been the nation’s only legal assistance agency devoted exclusively to educating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. SPLC provides free legal assistance, information and educational materials for student journalists on a variety of legal topics.
Society of Professional Journalists (“SPJ”) is dedicated to improving and protecting journalism. It is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.