From the Legal Hotline (1-877-NEWS-LAW)

From the Legal Hotline (1-877-NEWS-LAW)

Q. Do you have any guidance on ADA website compliance?

A. Attached is a memo from a while back but it should still be relevant.

Q. A local political party women’s club wants to run a series of informational ads regarding voting. Are we bound by any political rates for the ad and is the prepayment rule applicable?

A. There is no statutory requirement as to the amount a newspaper can charge for political advertising. Many newspapers charge using rate cards applicable to any other ad. Other newspapers have a special political advertising rate on a separate card. Both methods are legal.

Regarding prepayment, Florida law requires “candidates” to make payment “upon final delivery and acceptance of the service,” which means in the case of media services that payment is due upon placement of the ad for publication or at least when the ad is actually run, and not afterwards in the form of a payment plan. s. 106.11(4). In this case, the payment is being made by a non-candidate, so I think there is some flexibility regarding prepayment if that is even an issue here.

Q. The above women’s club’s ads pertain to voting and the upcoming school board candidates forum. According to their secretary, they don’t endorse any candidate, so they’re not bound by the FEC or state disclaimer regulations. Since the race is rather contentious and has become political, I need to make sure we are compliant with all guidelines.

A. If the ad does not “expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate” (or does not weigh in on a ballot issue), which seems to be the case here, it is not a “political ad” (s. 106.011) and thus not subject to the disclaimers required for such ads. Regarding the FEC rules, if there is any particular issue, I can research it.

Q. On Tuesday, our county commissioners scheduled their final budget hearing to decide millage and tax rates for 5:01 p.m. Because the regular meeting was running late, they kept on going and held it at around 6 p.m. Now, if I am not mistaken, they must hold those budget hearings – by law – at the scheduled, advertised times. They didn’t. There was hardly anyone at the meeting and also there was a hurricane swirling around and people were getting prepared. So there was obviously no public comment. The board went and approved the budget anyway.
Is that a violation of state law?

A. S. 200.065(e)2., FS, relating to the method of fixing millage rates, states that if due to unavoidable reasons the hearing is “recessed or postponed” then the commission must republish. Technically It does not appear that this happened so I think they could hear the rate issue at 6 p.m. as opposed to the 5:01 p.m. advertised time. Apart from the legality question, however, in light of the hurricane, it would have made sense to postpone and republish but, again, that’s their call.

Q. Regarding public notices, are newspapers who are not FPA member still required to upload/post their legals on the FPA aggregate website? How about their own website? If the newspaper is not in compliance with the public notice law, is that something FPA would address?

A. All newspapers are required to upload such notices to the statewide website. And, they should be posting legals on their website in addition to publishing in print. While FPA provides guidance on posting requirements and we urge members to review their own compliance status, we do not have any authority to require compliance. The main compliance mechanism will be the local governments who will want their notices to comply with Chapter 50 as well as adversely affected third parties who might complain about a non-compliant notice.

Q. Our editor interviewed a candidate for school board about some past transgressions and he made some statements to the effect that he “had made some mistakes in the past,” etc. There was no mention about it being confidential at the time. Now the candidate is saying this was “off the record,” and wants the paper to run in place of his quotes, some verbiage in his campaign ads. Any thoughts on whether the paper has any obligation to abide by his request or is this a case of the horse is out of the barn?

A. Generally, “off the record” means different things in different places. In the US, it means the remarks cannot be reported, at all. In other countries, it means the remarks can be reported, but not attributed. In the US, we have nuances to cover that: “On background” means the remarks can be reported, but not attributed to a source. “On deep background” means the remarks can be neither reported nor attributed.

In this case, if the candidate made statements to the paper without the reporter agreeing in advance that the statements were off the record, then the paper can certainly print them. The issue, of course, is that the candidate claims he said his statements were off the record and the reporter says he didn’t. Unless there was a 3rd party witness, it is one person’s word against the other. Also, if you run something he now wishes to be off the record, you likely will not get him to speak again or he may advise his colleagues to likewise refrain. Also, I don’t think you can print it as an “unnamed” source since the article is about the candidate.

That said, again, I do think you can publish the story using his quotes without legal recourse, and that is especially true here where he retroactively said, “off the record,” probably after he spoke to his colleagues. If what the paper is printing is true, then the candidate would not have any basis for a defamation claim. I also doubt he would sue claiming that the reporter breached an oral contract, because he would still have to acknowledge that the statements are true. Based on what I know, it seems that the risk of litigation is pretty low.

Q.I have a question regarding an issue that I expected to happen at some point, but was kind of caught off guard with this morning. I received a press release from the sheriff’s office regarding a deputy involved in a shooting. Throughout, the deputy is referred to as “they” and “their”. How does this old-school editor (lol) deal with this? Are we even allowed to ask the detective’s gender, or do we write it the way they submit it?

A. This may be an unintentional use of “they” and “their” when it should have been more specifically “he” and “his” or “she” and “her.”’ I think you could just ask the PRO or your contact at the department what gender to use. Or, you could google the deputy and see what you find? If it’s still ambiguous then maybe the terminology was intentional but probably not.