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Miami Herald v. Tornillo

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Brief Fact Summary. Tornillo (Respondent) requested space in the paper to respond to editorials that ran the previous two weeks.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Infringing upon the editorial functions of a paper is unconstitutional. The government may not compel equal rebuttal access to print media on behalf of political candidates.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The power of a privately owned newspaper to advance its own political, social, and economic views is bounded by only two factors: first, the acceptance of a sufficient number of readers--and hence advertisers--to assure financial success; and, second, the journalistic integrity of its editors and publishers.

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Facts. Respondent was a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives in 1972. The Miami Herald (Petitioner) ran two editorials in two weeks that were critical of Respondent. Respondent demanded rebuttal space and was denied. Respondent brought action under the state statute of “right of reply” that guarantees candidates conspicuous space in the paper to reply to attacks o character or official function by the newspaper.

Issue. Is it unconstitutional to require a newspaper to grant a politician criticism reply space?

Held. Yes. This statute impedes the freedom of press guaranteed by the First Amendment. The function of the editor is curtailed, tuning the paper into nothing more than a passive conduit for communication.

Discussion. Most television and newspapers are owned by one company, which is leading to the monopolization of the airwaves and encourages censorship. However, responsible ownership cannot be legislated and is not mandated by the United States Constitution. The result of this statute is a financial penalty for publishing material that is critical of an individual. This could lead to political censorship for fear of financial retribution.

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