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News media could face prosecution under animal abuse whistleblower bill

If a proposed state law passes, a reporter who distributes videos of animal abuse obtained without property owners' consent on Iowa farms could be convicted of felony crimes, fined, and imprisoned, facing stiffer penalties than those imposed for the abuse itself.

The current wording of Iowa House File (HF) 589 could allow for the prosecution of news media workers who disseminate undercover videos or photographs of animal cruelty incidents shot on the state's farms without explicit permission from property owners, said state Sen. Matt McCoy in a phone interview this week.

HF 589 states that 'a person is guilty of animal facility interference if the person acts without the consent of the owner of an animal facility to willfully' produce a record which reproduces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility' or 'possesses or distributes a record which produces an image or sound occurring at the animal facility' according to the Iowa legislature's website.

'It's a clear violation of the First Amendment,' McCoy told Animal Policy Examiner. 'If someone knowingly possesses material given to them by a whistleblower, they could be convicted of a class D felony just for possessing it. Currently media are treated the same way.'

Animal protection groups including Compassion Over Killing (COK), Mercy for Animals (MFA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) rely on secret investigations to expose the abuses of farmed animals that they allege are common. Undercover whistleblower videos have led to law enforcement investigations, prosecutions, and closures of some facilities.

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