Washington, D.C. independent journalist Will Potter joined with civil rights, animal protection, labour, and environmental groups to file a lawsuit against the state of Idaho’s new “ag-gag” bill on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
Idaho’s Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter recently signed the latest so-called “ag-gag” bill, which will charge anyone who secretly films animal abuse at Idaho’s agricultural facilities. If caught, they will receive a $5,000 fine and face up to a one year prison sentence. Idaho is the seventh state in the nation to criminalize the making of hidden audio and video recordings, or the obtaining of records from agricultural operations inside farm facilities. Lying on an employment application is also outlawed.
Although it was only a month ago that the bill was passed, Potter and the rest of the coalition of opponents that have joined forces with him are moving quickly to overturn this dangerous bill. “It’s a direct attack on whistleblowers, investigators, and journalists. Most importantly, laws like this are an attempt to keep everyone from knowing what really takes place behind closed doors on factory farms and slaughterhouses,” said Potter.
It was ironic that the time the bill was passed coincided with the graphic video footage of animal abuse that was taken by an undercover investigator at an Idaho farm for Mercy For Animals. This was only one of the many undercover video investigations taken by both Mercy For Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which exposed shocking images of workers punching, and kicking animals. In some cases, there was even evidence of workers sexually abusing cows.
Potter said that he remembers the first “ag-gag” prosecution in the country when “a young woman who filmed a sick cow being moved by a bulldozer, as she stood on the public street.” He said that when he “broke the story, …it created such public outrage that prosecutors dropped all charges.”
“Ag-gag” laws not only prevent investigators from capturing the atrocities that are happening to animals on farms, but without any sources to deliver information, journalists will have nothing to report on the subject. The public will no longer be made aware of the conditions of the farms where they get their food from, putting them at risk for food safety. Also, there are environmental concerns that arise from the chemicals that are put into the livestock feed and injected into the farm animals. The manure from the animals soaks into the soil, and eventually runs off into the oceans, poisoning our water supply.
“I’m proud to be a plaintiff alongside groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Farm Sanctuary, Farm Forward, and the Center for Food Safety,” said Potter. “I’m honoured that more than 16 professional journalism organizations have authored a letter to the court in support of my position, and in support of the First Amendment,” he added.
Hopefully, the “ag-gag” law will be squashed, not only in the State of Idaho, but in all the other states that have signed the bill. If they manage to maintain it, the chances of other states and even other countries following their example is inevitable. This will put everyone in grave danger, turning what is supposed to be democratic societies into an Orwellian nightmare.
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