This article could be illegal in Arkansas

The Arkansas state capitol building. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
It should go without saying that no editorial, op-ed or news article should be “illegal,” particularly one talking about core constitutional protections for free speech and our free press.

By Gabe Rottman | Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press | Jul 2, 2019

Not only does [the Arkansas law] put a thumb on the scale of public debate — a newspaper that signs the certification is free to publish editorials or any other content opposing an Israel boycott — but it also forces newspapers that might otherwise remain silent on a public controversy to take a side.

In August 2017, the Arkansas legislature passed a law requiring any state contractor to sign a form pledging it will not participate in a boycott of Israel. The only options for a contractor that does not want to sign are to give up contracting with the state or to discount prices by 20 percent. The law is so broad it could outlaw the publication of this article in the state. Here’s why.

The Arkansas Times, an alternative newsweekly in Little Rock, has for years contracted to run advertisements for Pulaski Technical College, a state school. The Times has never commented on an Israeli boycott, but it refused to sign the certification for fear it would interfere with its perceived editorial independence. Pulaski Technical College withdrew its advertising.

The Arkansas Times sued, arguing the law violates the First Amendment, particularly because the Arkansas legislature passed the law not because of any rash of Israeli boycotts in the state, but to target one particular global boycott movement, the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” campaign, or “BDS.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 15 news media organizations filed a brief in support of the Times. The brief takes no position on Israel, Israeli boycotts, BDS, or even political boycotts in general. Rather, it argues that the law puts any news organization in an impossible situation: Either it signs the certification and is perceived as pro-Israel or anti-boycott, or it foregoes contracting with the state (or drops its prices dramatically) and is perceived as anti-Israel or pro-boycott. It’s the quintessential catch-22.

Read the full article here →