Pikeville, Kentucky – Local media outlets are speaking out after they received emails from a state police spokesperson demanding that they wait for a press release from the police department before publishing stories about ongoing investigations, which implies that the outlets are prohibited from using a narrative that is different from the one chosen by police.
The Mountain Advocate newspaper and a Bell County radio station received an email from Kentucky State Police spokesman Shane Jacobs, in which he started out by writing that he personally has “a great working relationship with the media,” but that all of the inquiries he receives from media contacts take time away from his personal life and add to his apparently busy schedule.
“Good afternoon, I would like to start out by saying that I feel I have a great working relationship with the media in our area. I work many hours and sometimes on my days off to relay information to the media outlets. I want you guys to know I do have a personal life and sometimes I can’t respond to your e-mails as quick as you would like. I am out of town at times spending it with my family. I have trainings, State Fair Trooper Island, and other events I have to attend which causes me to be out of town also.”
Jacobs then demanded that the media outlets wait until an official press release is sent to them before including any details of an ongoing investigation in published stories, social media posts, or on the radio. He claimed the goal was to keep from spreading “inaccurate information from Sheriff’s or anyone else,” and threatened that if the media outlets did not follow his demands, they would be removed from his distribution list.
“From this point forward when KSP is working an investigation, you are to wait until OUR (KSP) press release is sent out before putting anything out on social media, radio, and newspaper. No more posting inaccurate information from Sherrif’s or anyone else. I don’t care to confirm something and then get a release out later. Authority of my supervisors, if this continues, you will be taken off our media distribution list. Thanks Shane.”
After the publication received the warning, Mountain Advocate publisher Jay Nolan responded by calling out Kentucky State Police for refusing to honor an “independent, free press” that works with law enforcement agencies “to keep the public fully informed and protected.”
“For the KSP to tell us we can only report what the KSP says when they want to say it, and we must ignore any and all other sources, that’s crazy,” Nolan said. “Any professional journalist would consider a publicly elected law enforcement professional like our Sheriff as a credible source. Sheriff Smith has 27 years of law enforcement experience, 24 of which with KSP itself. To tell us we can’t quote someone like him, or an eyewitness, or a local police chief? And, for them to threaten us with removal from their media list is at best misguided.”
Brian O’Brien, President and General Manager of The Big One 106.3FM WRIL radio station, also received a copy of the email from police spokesman Jacobs, and he argued that the media has a duty to the public to provide responsible, timely reports on incidents—even if that includes reports on an ongoing investigation that the police department hasn’t written a press release about.
“When I received the email I was very surprised. I have worked for decades to establish a rapport with law enforcement when reporting issues facing the community. While I can’t speak for any other media, I do feel that most of us do our utmost to check sources and present our coverage in a respectful manner,” O’Brien said.
In a letter to the KSP commissioner, David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, said he believes the demands in the emails raise “serious First Amendment and other legal issues,” therefore “the officer’s threat is not acceptable.”
“This is nothing less than an unconstitutional and illegal attempt to restrict access to KSP information because a media outlet has published information that has (displeased) the state police,” Thompson wrote.