After Being Excluded From Media List, Local Journalist Sues City, Mayor


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Wendi Thomas
  • Wendi Thomas

The editor of local news organization MLK50: Justice Through Journalism is suing the city of Memphis for refusing to include her on its media advisory lists.

The complaint was filed in federal court Wednesday by attorneys for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the press on behalf of Wendi Thomas, editor, publisher, and founder of MLK50.

The lawsuit alleges that the city, along with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, and chief communications officer Ursula Madden, violated the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions by repeatedly denying Thomas’s requests to add her email address to the media advisory list.

Paul McAdoo, Tennessee’s staff attorney for the Reporter’s Committee Local Legal Initiative, said “it is flat unconstitutional for the city to disrupt and interfere with Ms. Thomas’ ability to gather and report news because it doesn’t like the content of her reporting.”

After multiple attempts to get the city and its officials to stop its retaliatory exclusion of Ms. Thomas from the media list, she has been left with no choice but to ask a federal district court to enforce her rights under the First Amendment and Tennessee Constitution. The administration has said it strives to be the most transparent and communicative in the city’s history, yet retaliation against Ms. Thomas and MLK50 for past coverage of the city is unlawful and ultimately shuts out the Memphis community relying on them for information.”

According to the complaint, Thomas sent seven emails between May 2019 and January 2020 to the city asking to be included on the list, but was not added.

The lawsuit is asking the court to require the city to add Thomas to its media list immediately, publish explicit standards for including reporters and news organizations on its media list, and to provide notice to any reporter prior to removing them from the list, giving them an opportunity to contest it.

See related PDF Thomas-v.-City-of-Memphis-complaint-5-13-2020.pdf

“No politician likes being the subject of critical coverage, but that comes with elected office, and I would be abdicating my role as a journalist if I failed to hold local government, including the city of Memphis accountable,” said Thomas. “I am disappointed that it’s come to this since the fix is so simple: Just treat me and MLK50 like you treat other journalists and news outlets.The time and energy I’ve spent trying to get the city to respect my First Amendment right, I could have spent reporting on and for residents struggling to make ends meet and other marginalized groups.”

This comes after McAdoo sent a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Jon McCalla last week, alleging that by refusing to add MLK50 to its media contact list, the city is violating the 1978 Kendrick Consent Decree. The letter argued that the city’s treatment of MLK50 is “inconsistent with the city’s obligations under the Kendrick Consent Decree.”

The consent decree instructs the city not to “disrupt, discredit, interfere with, or otherwise harass any person exercising First Amendment rights.”

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