Press freedom advocates say that proposal is not needed
By B.C. Manion
State Sen. Jim Norman has filed a bill that would make it illegal for anyone to take photographs or video recordings on farms or of farm operations without the consent of the property owner or the owner’s authorized representative.
The bill is intended as “protection for farmers, from A to Z,” Norman told a group of agricultural industry representatives at a meeting at the Pasco County Fairgrounds last Friday, March 4.
It would protect the intellectual property rights of farmers who are working on patents, Norman said. It also would allow them to keep their competitive operational methods private and would prevent people from misrepresenting themselves to obtain images when they come on a farmer’s property, Norman said.
“I just believe that to go on somebody’s property, you need their permission,” Norman said, adding he wouldn’t want someone to come into his house and begin filming.
The bill is only intended to cover only people who are physically on the farm’s property, Norman said. It is not aimed at restricting people from obtaining images as they fly over a property or from doing so from the road.
The bill doesn’t apply to state inspectors or law enforcement officials, either, Norman said.
Ray Crawford, with the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, called Norman’s bill important. He said it is very easy for someone to create an unfair portrayal of a farming operation.
“I can follow you around for a month,” Crawford said. “I can take a snippet here and a snippet there, and make you look bad.”
By the same token, it doesn’t take much to hurt the agriculture animal industry, Crawford said.
“Let’s face it, if you put something out on YouTube or 60 Minutes or something like that, it reflects on animal agriculture,” Crawford said.
“We want the industry to be humane and we want the industry to be productive,” Crawford said. “It is to our advantage to take the best possible care we can with our animals.”
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of our guys are fantastic,” Crawford added. “If you’ve got a situation where somebody is not doing what they’re supposed to do, they don’t survive,” he said.
Jeff Kerr, general counsel for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said, “Sen. Jim Norman should be ashamed of himself.”
Instead of restricting cameras, Norman should be pushing to install cameras so people can witness the mistreatment of the animals that ultimately wind up on their dinner plates, Kerr said. He also calls the proposed legislation “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, based in Arlington, Va., said she doesn’t understand why a special law is necessary.
“There’s more than enough law out there to accomplish what these guys are trying to achieve,” Dalglish said.
Ben Parks, director of state legislative affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, said the bill that has been filed is not in its final form.
“Right now, it’s a working document,” Parks said.
“This is mainly a private property rights bill,” Parks said. “We want to make sure everything is legal and constitutional.”
The bill is generally aimed at people who go onto a property “with the malicious intent to destroy the reputation of a farming operator,” Parks said.
Dalglish said that trespass laws are designed to keep people off of private property.
“To make it illegal to take a photograph on a farm property — it’s ridiculous,” Dalglish said.
Sam Morley, general counsel for the Florida Press Association, said “the kind of behavior the bill is intended to prevent such as unauthorized secret filming or trespassing on agricultural or farming operations is already subject to criminal or civil penalties or lawsuit or firing in case of an employee.”