WUFT by Gabriella Paul
February 11, 2019
Florida moved a step closer Monday to prohibiting police from releasing audio, photographs or video of mass killings unless a court gives them permission. The measure could dramatically alter the way news organizations cover a modern scourge that has claimed scores of lives.
The bill would retroactively cover footage of all previous mass killings in Florida.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved the proposal, SB 186, during a hearing Monday in Tallahassee. At least one other committee was expected to review the measure before a floor vote. Gov. Ron DeSantis was not expected to object to the bill.
Florida has been the scene since 2013 of at least five mass shootings that would be covered under the new law, including last year’s killings of 17 high school students in Broward County and the deaths of 49 people in 2016 at a nightclub in Orlando.
The bill is similar to other proposals across the U.S. intended to protect the privacy of crime victims and their families and diminish the public’s exposure to graphic imagery that might inspire others to commit sensational violence.
The father of 14-year-old Alaina Petty, who died in last year’s school shooting, said he supports limits on graphic footage.
“In the midst of our grief, we felt victimized again,” Ryan Petty of Parkland, Florida, said in a telephone interview.
Media organizations said the new limits would impede reporting on whether law enforcement adequately responds in unfolding emergencies. Broward County’s sheriff resigned under pressure last month after his deputies failed to charge inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High during the shooting. The FBI was criticized for failing to take seriously clues the Orlando nightclub shooter might become violent, and radio problems the night of those killings contributed to confusion at the scene.
Barbara Petersen, head of the First Amendment Foundation, an open government advocacy group, told the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, the material that would be banned was “critical in ensuring the public’s right to hold law enforcement accountable for its actions.”