Nevada lawmaker seeks to limit newspapers’ use of photos

Monday, July 10, 2000

An altercation between an angry parent and a basketball coach has led to a proposal by a Nevada lawmaker to limit the use of photographs by newspapers.

Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, a Republican from Gardnerville, acknowledges that such legislation would have some major First Amendment hurdles to clear, but he says his constituent, retired Douglas High School teacher Dan Paterson, has a right to have his concerns addressed.

Paterson, who also is a former girls basketball coach, attended a game of his 8th-grade daughter's team. The team lost, and afterward, Paterson got into a pushing and shoving match with the coach, according to Sheila Gardner, editor of The (Douglas County) Record-Courier.

Paterson was charged in the incident. A report in the Feb. 5 edition of The Record-Courier said Paterson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge and agreed to undergo an anger-management evaluation. The Record-Courier ran a photograph of Paterson along with the article.

According to Associated Press and Las VegasReview-Journal reports, Hettrick has asked for legislation to be drafted that would “restrict use by newspapers of photographs of persons under certain circumstances.” What those “circumstances” are were not specified.

In an article on Hettrick's proposed legislation, the Review-Journal reported that Paterson had complained to the legislator about the photograph in The Record-Courier.

“He (Paterson) said the papers ran a mug shot that made him look like a criminal,” Hettrick told the Review-Journal.

The lawmaker also said Paterson had complained that he was given no opportunity to comment on the incident. Neither Paterson nor Hettrick could be reached to comment on the details of the Review-Journal article or the AP account of the story.

However, Gardner, the editor of the twice-weekly newspaper, said in an interview that she considered Hettrick's proposal to be an overreaction and disputed some key details in the news stories.

First, she said, the paper did not run a “mug shot” but rather used a photograph of Paterson that had been taken some months earlier to illustrate a feature about his family that appeared in the paper. The photo that appeared in connection with the basketball altercation was simply a headshot of Paterson obtained by cropping that photograph.

Also, she said, Paterson was contacted by the paper for his comments.

“We ran several stories,” Gardner said. “When we ran the first story, no charges had been filed, so we didn't identify anyone. The second story, charges were filed, so we called up (Paterson), and he commented. We also covered the court proceedings. Our reporter gave him and his attorney the opportunity to comment before and after (the court proceedings), and they both declined.”

Gardner said she was caught off-guard by the Hettrick legislation since Paterson had never contacted the paper to lodge a complaint about the photograph used with the story.

“We didn't hear from Mr. Paterson one way or the other after we published the story. We didn't hear anything. He didn't try to contact us, and neither did Assemblyman Hettrick,” Gardner said.

Nevada Press Association Executive Director Kent Lauer told the AP he considered the Hettrick proposal to be a “waste of taxpayer money” because the legislation would be clearly unconstitutional.

“It should be dead on arrival at the Legislature because it's a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” Lauer said. “It is a waste of taxpayer money to have legislative staff draft such a measure. It's government censorship, plain and simple.”

The Nevada Legislature is not currently in session, Gardner said, so there is no way to assess the prospect for the legislation.

“This bill could die, it could be withdrawn, or it could pass,” she said.

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