We have a message for Rep. Joe Read, a Republican from Ronan: Please read your U.S. Constitution.

Here. We'll save you some time.

Rep. Read, read The First Amendment.

Here. We'll help you again by printing it.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

What the framers of the Constitution were saying is that Congress — that is, the lawmakers (read: Legislature) — cannot restrict the freedom of the press.

On Wednesday, a House committee tabled a bill on an 18-2 vote that would have required all newspapers and broadcasters to disclose at the top of front page or during the news broadcasts out-of-state owners or corporations.

We thank the committee for killing it. But many bad legislative ideas tend to crop up again and again. In other words, wait till the 2021 session.

And so it's important to note that in addition to being clearly unconstitutional, it's also a waste of time.

We have news for Read: We already disclose our ownership and have done that every day for decades. We watch our broadcasting colleagues and we see that they also disclose their copyrights and who owns them.

For example, in two different places in The Billings Gazette on Page A2, you can find that The Billings Gazette is a division of Lee Enterprises. The statement: "The Billings Gazette is a Lee Enterprises newspaper" can be found on the Opinion page also.

Geez, Rep. Read: How many more times can we print it?

Just in case, though.

The Billings Gazette is a Lee Enterprises newspaper.

The Billings Gazette is a Lee Enterprises newspaper.

The Billings Gazette is a Lee Enterprises newspaper.

The Billings Gazette is a Lee Enterprises newspaper.


But, let's take a moment on that topic of who owns The Billings Gazette and what that means.

Read seems to think that the corporation which owns The Gazette and where it's located (once again, Lee Enterprises and Davenport, Iowa) somehow has a role in what is covered in Billings, Montana.

As much as we'd love to blame every decision on some corporate overlords miles away, The Billings Gazette is still a local news company. The decisions about what to cover and how to cover the news are still local decisions.

For example, this editorial was written in Billings, and no one in Davenport, Iowa, gave a blessing to run it. This editorial endorsement came from Billings' people. The editorial board members are printed every day on the Opinion page, too.

We'd also like to point out that The Billings Gazette, through its Lee Newspapers Foundation, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars away to various projects, including the Montana State University Billings Science Building and a commitment to Rocky Mountain College. We've also pledge financial support to improving Billings' airline service. These projects could not be funded unless we had the financial muscle and backing of a corporation.

Our corporation's strong footprint in Montana means that we can also provide more robust statewide news coverage as we can leverage four other Montana newspapers' offerings because of our corporate network. That's a benefit for the entire state. We don't have to compete against every one, we can work to spread out and offer as comprehensive news package as possible.

Who owns the newspaper isn't as important as who works at the newspaper or what stories those people cover.

Montanans should be concerned anytime a lawmaker wants to require a newspaper to print anything. To us, the government mandating any broadcaster or publisher to print something starts feeling a lot like state-run media. And when governments can start legislating, requiring, media to print anything, it's not only a threat to the Constitution, but a threat to freedom. We can't really be free if we're required to print something.

Because lawmakers decided to table this bill, we don't have to waste our money litigating this clearly unconstitutional issue, and taxpayers aren't exposed to a lawsuit, too. We, along with every other media in the state, would have been forced to fight this because we value our First Amendment rights.

If readers really want to know what corporation owns us, they can simply look inside on Page A2 where it's stated twice.

Better yet, those same readers can look at an index of newspaper departments and the leaders, and dial them directly.

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The Billings Gazette


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