News & Features

Montana Bill Would Require Media to Identify Ownership

Media outlets would have to prominently identify their owners and their headquarters in large print on the front of their publications

HELENA — A bill being considered by Montana lawmakers would require media outlets owned by out-of-state corporations to prominently identify their owners and their headquarters in large print on the front of their publications and on online content.

The bill by Republican Rep. Joe Read would require newspapers, magazines and broadcast to make the ownership disclosures in type about two-thirds of an inch tall.

Read said Monday he brought the bill partly in response to Lee Enterprises’ purchase and later closure of the Missoula Independent.

Lee Enterprises, based in Davenport, Iowa, owns the Missoulian, The Billings Gazette, the Independent Record in Helena, the Montana Standard in Butte and the Ravalli Republic in Hamilton along with other specialty publications.

“I have to admit that I did not like the Missoula Independent as it was not a conservative publication,” Read said Monday. “It was very liberal. But every time I got to Missoula I had to read it to find out what that side was saying, so I guess you would say it was the newspaper I loved to hate.”

Read also made an apparent reference to Sinclair Broadcasting Group requiring local television anchors to read statements or air certain content.

“At what point in time is it going to be that the newspapers themselves, the corporate entity, says ‘I have something I need you to print’ and overrides local authority?” Read asked.

The Montana Newspaper Association and the Montana Broadcasters Association spoke against the bill, citing First Amendment concerns and saying the ownership information is already available.

“I don’t think it’s one person’s opinion, I would say it’s 70 years of case law and two constitutions that say that the right of what goes into the newspaper belongs to those who run the newspaper,” said John MacDonald, lobbyist for the Montana Newspaper Association.

He said most newspapers disclose their ownership and leadership in every edition.

Keith Teske with the Montana Broadcasters Association and general manager of Cowles Montana Media said the Federal Communications Commission requires TV stations to disclose their ownership and the information is readily available on the FCC website via links from the station websites.

“As broadcasters we’re licensed to serve our communities and we have to demonstrate that to the FCC every time we renew our license,” Teske said. “Regardless of where our headquarters is located, we make substantial investment in the people and the resources necessary to provide news and information.”

The committee did not vote on the bill, which did not have a legal note, staffers said.

Read said he was open to reducing the type size for the disclosure, saying he called for the large font to make people pay attention and get the discussion going.