September 14th, 2001 • Quill Archives
The legalities of reporting the news (INTRODUCTION)
INTRODUCTION For decades, the media hid behind their First Amendment protection as if it were an impenetrable shield. Whatever was done in furtherance of its mission as the Fourth Estate and as the people’s watchdog on government was protected behind that shield.
PART I Misrepresentation and deception In the past decade, high-profile lawsuits, primarily against television newsmagazines, have resulted in criticism of the news media. Unfortunately for the majority of the media community, the deceptive practices of these organizations also have reinforced the negative stereotype that journalists will lie, cheat and steal to get a story, boost ratings or sell newspapers.
PART II Wiretapping and tape recording The law regarding journalists recording conversations in which they participate is generally clear; federal law requires at least one party to consent to the recording. Most states have adopted laws based on the federal statute and require only one party to consent.
PART III Ride-alongs and privacy Ten years ago, police and journalists saw nothing wrong with “ride-alongs,” a newsgathering technique where reporters and photographers accompanied law enforcement officers as they patrolled their beats, served warrants or staked out suspected criminals. Few police reporters have missed the ride-along experience, whether its purpose was to show a rookie reporter what the mean streets are really like or to generate publicity for a police organization’s actions.
PART IV Trespass While media ride-alongs on private property can raise Fourth Amendment issues, newsgatherers who venture on private property without permission of the property owner also can face sanctions from criminal or civil trespass laws. Last summer, eight journalists were arrested after they followed a group protesting U.S.
PART V Conclusion Whatever direction the Supreme Court and others take regarding First Amendment defenses and challenges to press freedom, it’s clear that plaintiff’s lawyers will continue to find ways to impose liability on journalists who violate standards about what is acceptable.
Internet access to federal judicial records would not include criminal files for at least another two years under a recommendation to be weighed this month by the federal judges who set policy for the judicial system. U.S. District Judge John Lungstrom, who oversaw the comment process during the past year, said the committee members who created the proposal were concerned about misuse of information to the “physical detriment of cooperating witnesses” in criminal cases.
Computer scientists and lawyers united last month on an issue that also resonates with journalists in an attack on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Cindy Cohn, legal director of Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), says that without some changes in the DMCA, computer scientists will do their research under a shadow of illegality and threats of lawsuits if they publish or speak about their research into the technology behind encrypted music compact discs.