State Police order threatens media

A spokesperson from the Kentucky State Police (KSP) has issued an order, attempting to place demands on the Mountain Advocate and a Bell County radio station.

The order from State Police Public Affairs Officer Shane Jacobs says, “…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. No more posting inaccurate information from Sheriff’s or anyone else.”  He then threatens, “Authority of my supervisors, if this continues, you will be taken off our media distribution list.” (See below article for PDF of Jacobs’ e-mail)

In response, Mountain Advocate publisher Jay Nolan stated, “We believe our community is best served when an independent, free press works closely with all law enforcement agencies. Our mutual goal should be to keep the public fully informed and protected.”  He went on to say, “For the KSP to tell us we can only report what the KSP says, when they want to say it, and we must ignore any and all other sources, that’s crazy. Any professional journalist would consider a publicly elected law enforcement professional like our Sheriff as a credible source. Sheriff Smith has 27 years of law enforcement experience, 24 of which with KSP itself. To tell us we can’t quote someone like him, or an eyewitness, or a local police chief? And, for them to threaten us with removal from their media list is at best misguided.” 

The Mountain Advocate has notified the Kentucky Press Association, (KPA) about the incident. KPA attorney, Jon Fleishaker, commented, for the State Police to say it will restrict publication of information is clearly a violation of the First Amendment, adding “The officer’s threat is not acceptable.”  At the Mountain Advocate’s request, the Executive Director of KPA, David Thompson, has sent a letter asking the commissioner of the KSP to overturn officer Jacobs’ order.  (See below article for PDF of Thompson’s email to KSP)

“In my years of working with The Mountain Advocate, I feel our relationship with local law enforcement is stronger than it’s ever been,” said Mountain Advocate Editor Charles Myrick. “This demand has totally blindsided us. However, we will continue to do our job and keep the public informed, regardless of the agency or agencies involved.”

Brian O’Brien, President and General Manager of The Big One 106.3FM WRIL radio station in Bell County was equally caught off guard by the demand. “When I received the email I was very surprised.  I have worked for decades to establish a rapport with law enforcement when reporting issues facing the community.  While I can’t speak for any other media, I do feel that most of us do our utmost to check sources and present our coverage in a respectful manner,” O’Brien said. “I understand that many incidents are fluid and change rapidly especially after the nature of a school threat, but we still have an obligation to responsibly report an event to the public.”

“We always try to support our law enforcement officers at every level. We know they have a difficult and dangerous job,” Nolan stated, pointing out that two sheriff’s deputies in Knox County were shot in the line of duty just last year.

“I appreciate the sacrifices all law enforcement officers make in keeping our people safe,” said Myrick. “But part of keeping the public safe is an open forum of communication, and that’s what we do. An attempt to silence the media is not only a breach of the First Amendment, but a slap in the face of any effort to keep our public safe.”

O’Brien defended his motives, saying “In the role of informing the public of an incident we would never attempt to derail or interfere with any ongoing or active investigation. As with any information we provide, we didn’t manufacture it, nor attempt to sensationalize it just to get a like or a click on our pages.  That is not our goal.”

“We want to work with the KSP, but we simply cannot do our job and comply with this order.” Nolan said.