In a move criticized as a threat to First Amendment rights, the Associated Press news organization issued a warning to staffers about expressing their opinions on Twitter and Facebook, as an unknown number did after New York Senate vote on gay marriage and on the Casey Anthony trial.
"In at least two recent cases, we have seen a few postings on social networks by AP staffers expressing personal opinions on issues in the news," Tom Kent, the AP's deputy managing editor for standards and production, reportedly wrote in an e-mail to staff on Wednesday. "This has happened on the New York Senate vote on gay marriage and on the Casey Anthony trial. These posts undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues."
The stringent social-networking policy stresses that "anyone who works for AP must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP's reputation as an unbiased source of news," and referred employees to the company's social media guidelines.
"Failure to abide by these rules can lead to disciplinary action," Kent wrote in the memo obtained by Wired.
The policy (.pdf) comes weeks after an AP reporter was reprimanded for posting a comment to his own Facebook profile criticizing the Sacramento-based newspaper chain McClatchy, whose stock has become nearly worthless after a string of costly acquisitions.
The News Media Guild told Wired that the AP’s policy was perhaps the most restrictive the union has seen.
"Parts of the policy seem to be snuffing out peoples’ First Amendment rights of expression by a company that wraps itself in the First Amendment," Wired quoted guild president Tony Winton as saying.
Kent, according to Yahoo News, said:
"The vast majority of our tweets on these stories — and on other issues in the news — have been completely in line with our guidelines. They pose no problem at all, and are consistent with the importance of AP staffers being active on social networks.
"But social networks, however we may configure our accounts or select our friends, should be considered a public forum. AP staffers should not make postings there that amount to personal opinions on contentious public issues."