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Reporters face trial for encouraging students to chew tobacco

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Reporters face trial for encouraging students to chew tobacco 03/08/99 UTAH--The Utah Court of Appeals upheld a decision that a…

Reporters face trial for encouraging students to chew tobacco

03/08/99

UTAH–The Utah Court of Appeals upheld a decision that a Salt Lake City TV reporter and cameraman were not protected by the First Amendment when they allegedly encouraged underage high school students to chew tobacco on camera. The decision now allows prosecutors to try them on five counts each of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

In February 1997, KTVX sent Mary Ann Sawyers and Joseph Krueger to Carbon High School in Price to observe and report on a school assembly designed to discourage students from using chewing tobacco. After calling the school to set up an interview with two students who chew tobacco, the defendants and the students met in the parking lot for the interview. Several students claimed that the reporter asked them to chew the tobacco, and said they would not get in trouble. The reporter claims that she did not “ask” or “instruct” the students to chew tobacco but rather they told the students “to do what they ordinarily would do.”

Sawyers and Krueger argue that their conduct was protected by the First Amendment, and they did not possess the intent required for a conviction under the law.

Trial judge Michael Wilkins held that the press may not encourage crime so that they can report it, and then claim that the prosecution is attempting to restrain or abridge the freedom of the press. While the First Amendment does give protection to news gathering activities, it does not give the press license to violate criminal laws. The court says that Krueger and Sawyers are not being prosecuted because they simply reported the activities but because they asked the children to chew tobacco so it could videotaped for the television news report. (Utah v. Krueger; Media Counsel: Gregory Skordas, Salt Lake City)