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County issues warning to press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — At least one Wisconsin county official wants to warn any journalists who cover the upcoming release of a regional water quality study: Publish the county’s news release summarizing the findings in its entirety without any alterations or risk criminal prosecution.

The Lafayette County Conservation Committee plans to vote Tuesday on the resolution, which would warn reporters to print the upcoming news release without any edits or alterations or face prosecution.

“All I can say is: Wow,” UW-Madison journalism instructor Kathleen Bartzen Culver said in an email to The Associated Press. “I am astonished that a local government would find it appropriate, much less legal, to threaten a news organization with prosecution for doing what they are constitutionally protected in doing — representing the public interest by seeking, analyzing and reporting information.

“For the life of me, I’m struggling to envision under what statute a journalist would be prosecuted for covering water test results released by local government.”

Federal and state researchers have been working on a joint study measuring contamination in private wells in Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties, which are in southeastern Wisconsin. They released results in August that found that 32 of 35 tested wells — or 91% — contained human or livestock fecal matter.

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