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Found Not Guilty? Proposed N.H. Bill Would Force Media To Edit Or Retract Story

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A bill coming before the legislature next year would require news organizations in New Hampshire to update or retract stories on the internet about a criminal proceeding if the defendant is ultimately found not guilty. 

The proposed legislation is sponsored by Rep. Jack Flanagan, a Republican from Brookline, who says two constituents contacted him requesting the measure.

Both were involved in criminal matters covered by local media outlets, and fear their online reputations are now at risk despite that they were ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.

“People’s lives are being impacted by this, whether it is small business...that was charged for something that didn’t pan out in court, or an individual who could be in the public eye that it was false claim, and they were completely exonerated, or whatever the case may be, it just leaves the story incomplete,” says Flanagan.

Under the terms of the bill, any New Hampshire media outlet would have to “immediately” update, retract or correct on online article if it received written notification from the accused party involved after they were found not guilty or had the charges dropped. Any media outlet that didn’t comply would face liability for any damages, presumably through a libel suit.

The bill is likely to face scrutiny on constitutional grounds. Both the U.S. and New Hampshire Constitutions spell out free speech protections, as well as the right to a free press. 

In Europe, so-called Right to Be Forgotten laws have been widely debated, though those measures generally put the obligation on search engines to not link to media posts about potentially negative articles, rather than require the media to publish certain articles.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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