News Media and the Law

Quarterly magazine on all aspects of media law covering cases, laws and other events that may affect the how journalists report and cover the news.

Articles from Vol. 24, No. 1, Winter

Act's Prohibition on Simulated Child Porn Is Unconstitutional
The Child Pornography Protection Act's prohibitions against computer-generated child pornography violate the First Amendment, according toa mid-December decision of a split federal Court of Appeals panel in San Francisco (9th Cir.). The court held that...
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Camera Ban Ruled Unconstitutional, but Not All Courts Agree
The right to use cameras in courtrooms is making headway in the state of New York, but not in California. A judge in Albany found an absolute ban on cameras in state courts unconstitutional in the case of four officers accused of the seconddegree murder...
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Coming Soon: More Closure
Several years ago, a former colleague at the St. Paul Pioneer Press asked me to assist him with a story he was writing about a single Minnesota mother who was dying of cancer. The woman's ex-husband owed $97,000 in child support for her 16-year-old daughter....
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Congress Can Regulate Release of Drivers' Records
High court overturns challenge to Driver's Privacy Protection Act The Congress of the United States has the authority to tell state governments to close off personal information in their drivers license databases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously...
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Contents of Innocently Received Audiotapes Can Be Published
THIRD CIRCUIT Innocently received contents of an illegally taped conversation can be published or broadcast by the news media without subjecting the media to liability under federal wiretap laws, according to a federal appellate court. The U.S. Court...
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Courts Allow Order Requiring Journalists to Sign Secrecy Agreement
A federal judge in Dallas refused on Jan. 10 to stop a trial judge from forcing spectators to a civil trial between two corporations to choose between leavingthe courtroom during certain portions of the trial or agreeing not to disclose information that...
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Fears of 'Unsavory' Coverage Outweigh Interests in Foster Autopsy Photos
The claim by Vince Foster's sister that disclosure of photographs of his body might subject his family to "unsavory and distasteful media coverage" figured prominently in an appeals court's decision to uphold the denial of the photographs to a conservative...
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Governments Can Deny Records Access to Commercial Users
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a California law that bars commercial enterprises from accessing and using certain information from police records. The law, which allows access to the addresses of people arrested only to those users who swear not to...
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High Court Denies Review in Wiretap, Libel Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court denied review in early November of a case over publication of transcripts of an illegal wiretap, leaving two Louisiana newspapers to defend at trial their publication of the contents of a telephone conversation played at a political...
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High Court Orders Journalists to Testify before Grand Jury
Belleville News-Democrat reporters George Pawlaczyk and Marilyn Vise must reveal their sources to a special grand jury convened to investigate perjury allegations regarding former Belleville Mayor Roger Cook and former Belleville City Commissioner James...
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Journalists Arrested in Seattle, Milwaukee, Chicago
Reporters continue to face arrest while doing their jobs. journalists in Seattle, Milwaukee and Chicago were arrested while covering the news, and a reporter for an American publication in Malaysia will not be able to appeal his contempt charge. CHARGES...
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Journalists Avoid Contempt Citations in Texas, Ireland
Reporters in Indiana team of phone records subpoena after carrier has complied Journalists in the United States and abroad who faced jail time for refusing to disclose confidential information obtained in highly controversial interviews were not forced...
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Journalists Challenge Prison Policies
Even as more and more state prison systems move to limit public and press access, journalists continue to fight for greater access to prisons and executions. Michigan has enacted a more restrictive policy, but that move led one state senator to introduce...
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Judge Was Wrong to Deny Media Access in King Trial
TENNESSEE The state Supreme Court held in December that a Memphis courtroom should not have been closed to a newspaper trying to cover the civil lawsuit brought by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s family against a man accused of conspiring to kill King....
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King Estate's Copyright in 'Dream' Speech Upheld on Appeal
The estate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can proceed with its copyright infringement lawsuit against CBS because public deliverance of the I Have a Dream" speech did not amount to a waiver of the copyright, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th...
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Mayoral Candidate Cannot Prove 'Actual Malice' in Political Ad
Noting that political discussion regarding the conduct of public officials is at the pinnacle of protected speech, the state Supreme Court in Frankfort held in late October that former Mayor Troy "Frog" Welch did not provide sufficient evidence to support...
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Naming Source Not Waiver of Privilege
A Las Vegas Review-journal reporter did not waive the privilege provided under the Nevada shield law when he identified and quoted a source in published articles, and consequently cannot be forced to testify in a wrongful death case about the contents...
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Newspapers Join Forces to Investigate Records Law Compliance
Putting aside competitive pressures, newspapers across the country are banding together to test their state's open record laws. Since seven Indiana newspapers first measured how well local governments were complying with state open record laws in 1997,...
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Non-Personnel Records in Employees' Files Not Exempt
In determining whether a document is a personnel record that may be exempt from public disclosure, the state Supreme Court in October looked not to the document's placement in a personnel file but to the document's content. A record must pertain to an...
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Police Videotapes of Bookings Are Public Records
The state Supreme Court in Jefferson City has ruled that police videotapes of criminal suspects being arrested and booked are public records, regardless of the fact that the videotapes were recycled every week or so and not kept permanently. The court...
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Pork Referendum Petitioners Can Keep Signatures Secret
Pork farmers seeking a referendum by the Department of Agriculture on whether they must continue to support the efforts of the National Pork Producers Council to promote "The Other White Meat" can keep their signatures secret, a unanimous U.S. Court...
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Records on State Employees' Unused Sick Leave Are Public
IOWA The state Supreme Court in Des Moines ruled in October that the public has a right to know how individual government employees are compensated for unused sick leave. But the court said releasing the addresses, dates of birth, and genders of the...
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Service Sues Judges over Nondisclosure
Web-based news service APBnews.com has filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York City against the U.S. Judicial Conference's Committee on Financial Disclosure, after the conference rejected a request for copies of the financial disclosure forms of...
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Sex-Offender Registry Laws Withstand Privacy Challenges
State laws requiring sex offenders to register with local law enforcement agencies when they move into a new community are constitutional, courts in two states recently ruled. The laws survived challenges that the registries they require are a form of...
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Singer's Divorce Is Matter of Legitimate Public Concern
NEW YORK Court won't second-guess newsworthiness of 'economic spousal abuse' The state's highest court in Albany ruled in mid-December that actress and singer Melba Moore's divorce from Charles Huggins, in which Moore accused Huggins of "economic spousal...
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State Law Criminalizing 'Harmful' Communication Is Overbroad
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver (10th Cir.) in early November enjoined enforcement of a New Mexico law that criminalizes computerized distribution of material "harmful to a minor." The appellate court found that the 1998 law,...
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State's 'Due Process' Right Doesn't Trump Shield Law
The California shield law provides absolute protection for journalists and is not trumped by a criminal prosecutor's "due process" right to pursue evidence under the state constitution, the state Supreme Court in San Francisco held in early November....
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Tapes Played in Open Court Are Public, Regardless of Crime Law
Information revealed in open court and made a part of a permanent public record is "public domain" information and open under the Freedom of Information Act, even if another statute would prohibit its release, a federal appeals panel in Washington, D.C.,...
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Without Hearing, High Court Overturns Decision on Openness of British Letter
At the government's urging, and without a hearing, the U.S. Supreme Court in December overturned a federal appeals court decision that release of an "innocuous" letter from the British Home Office could not damage foreign policy or national security....
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