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The Florida Supreme Court last week upheld a state statute requiring newspapers to print the replies of political candidates criticized in the paper's news or editorial columns.
The statute states "if any newspaper in its columns assails the personal character of any candidate" and does not allow the attacked equal time or "rights to access" to the paper's columns, the paper will be changed with a "misdemeanor of the first degree" and its editors will be subject to fine and imprisonment.
Dan Paul, lawyer for the Miami Herald, said yesterday that the ruling is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment. He said the newspaper will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Don Shoemaker, editor of the Herald, said the decision would mean newspapers would not be able to publish. He explained that newspaper columns would be given over to charges and replies from candidates and other political figures.
John T. McCutcheon Jr., editor of the Chicago Tribune editorial page, said yesterday the Florida statute is "diametrically opposite" to the 1958 Supreme Court ruling against General Walker, an extreme right-wing political figure, who sued many newspapers in an attempt for wide-range publicity. The Court ruled against Walker.
McCutcheon added that he also found the statute "diametically opposite to the trend in modern-day television political coverage." Previously it had been ruled that the major networks had to grant all the political candidates equal time, he said. Now the courts are ruling that the candidates shall buy as much time as the networks grant, he added.
McCutcheon said that he would take a strong position against the ruling in an editorial this week. Many other leading newspapers, including The New York Times, The New York Daily News and The Denver Post have registered protest against the Florida ruling. Several of them plan to introduce 'friend of the court' briefs before the Supreme Court.
A bill introduced into the Florida legislature to repeal the 1913 statute was defeated yesterday.
Richard Archibald, city editor of the Herald, said yesterday that the case would definitely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Paul added that all major newspapers could be expected to back the Herald in its long battle with the courts. The Florida decision could ultimately affect every paper in the country, Paul said.
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