House moves to restrict editorials, obituaries
MISSISSIPPI–The state House in late February passed a bill with amendments that would require newspaper editorials to be signed, death notices to be printed without charge and obituaries not to mention the subject’s cause of death, according to the Associated Press.
The House added these amendments to a bill recently passed by the Mississippi Senate that would raise the prices government offices must pay newspapers for printing legal advertisements.
Rep. Tommy Horne (I-Meridian) called his proposal to have editorials signed his “Yellow Dog Journalism” amendment. Horne told AP that the amendment would “humanize” editorials, giving respondents to these editorials a named target for their rebuttals. A similar bill introduced by Horne two years earlier failed to pass.
Rep. Steve Holland (D-Tupelo) who also runs a funeral home, introduced the death notice amendment. Although only four or five newspapers in the state charge for running death notices, Holland told the House that any newspaper that charges customers to print these notices is “un-Christian,” and that free publication of notices is only right.
Rep. Jim Barnett (D-Brookhaven) proposed the amendment that would prohibit the cause of death from being mentioned in obituaries. Barnett introduced this amendment because he believes that family members have suffered enough with the loss of a loved one. They should not have to read the cause of death in newspapers, especially if this causes them embarrassment or further grief, he said, citing death from AIDS or suicide as such examples.
Critics say the amendments should not be tied to the legal rate bill. Dan Phillips, publisher of The Oxford Eagle and president of the Mississippi Press Association, told AP that the bill is very important to small newspapers that depend on income from legal ads. Phillips said that the rates have gone unchanged for 11 years and adding these amendments might impede passage of the bill, proving costly to newspapers.
The bill must go back to the Senate for consideration of the amendments.