Commentary

Publishers Declared 'Essential' As Officials Order Business Closures

The coronavirus pandemic has led officials in at least a dozen states to order the closure of "nonessential" businesses as part of the effort to suppress new infections. Generally, essential businesses include healthcare providers, grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, gas stations and laundromats.
Unfortunately, news publishers in several states haven't been exempted from those restrictions, leading press associations to demand that authorities clarify the rules. The News Media Alliance, which represents about 2,000 news organizations throughout the country, has a web page with updates to keep publishers informed of how their businesses are classified.
Several trade groups, such as the Florida Press Association and the Minnesota Newspaper Association, sent letters to their respective state governors to request that news organizations be deemed as an "essential" service.
The letter-writing campaigns are having an effect. Colorado's Department of Public Health & Environment published an amended notice to specify that social-distancing rules don't apply to newspaper, TV , radio and other media services.
It's cartoonish that news outlets in a democratic country would have to justify their essential role in providing news and information to the public during a health crisis. Such restrictions also raise issues about protected press freedoms, but so far, news organizations haven't had to sue state and local authorities to press their First Amendment rights.
The bigger threat to publishers isn't martial law, but the economic calamity resulting from the pandemic.

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