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The Terrorist Is a Star! Regulating Media Coverage of Publicity-Seeking Crimes

By Ghetti, Michelle Ward | Federal Communications Law Journal, June 2008 | Go to article overview

The Terrorist Is a Star! Regulating Media Coverage of Publicity-Seeking Crimes


Ghetti, Michelle Ward, Federal Communications Law Journal


   I. PREFACE
  II. INTRODUCTION
 III. THE PROBLEM OF MEDIA COVERAGE OF
      PUBLICITY-SEEKING CRIMES
      A. Intimidation
      B. Imitation
      C. Immunization
      D. Imperilization
         1. Media dissemination of information
         2. Media interference with law enforcement
  IV. THE MEDIA'S REASONING
   V. SOLUTIONS
      A. Noncontent-related Suggestions
      B. Content-related Suggestions
      C. Providing Information
  VI. THE FIRST AMENDMENT
      A. Prior Restraint
      B. Subsequent Punishment
      C. Access Restrictions
      D. FCC Regulation
 VII. CONCLUSION
VIII. APPENDIX A: NONSTATE SPONSORED TERRORISTIC CRIMES
      COMMITTED FROM 1958 TO 1982
  IX. APPENDIX B: NONSTATE SPONSORED TERRORISTIC CRIMES
      COMMITTED FROM 1982 TO PRESENT

"There is no need to cry in the wilderness when anyone so inclined can plead his case on national television." (1)

I. PREFACE

The following piece, written twenty-five years ago, (2) is remarkable for four reasons: (1) it illustrates that terrorism and/or publicity-seeking crime and the media coverage of it were concerns being discussed twenty-five years ago; (3) (2) it is prophetic as to many issues; (4) (3) there has been little development in the law in this area, (5) despite an explosion of both broadcast technology/coverage (6) and publicity-seeking crime (7) since that time; and (4) there has been little to no coverage of it in legal journals. (8)

In the twenty-five years prior to the Article being written in 1982, approximately sixty incidents of non-state sponsored terrorism were documented within the United States or targeting United States citizens--more than there have been since 1982, although much of it was due to the racial unrest and antiwar sentiment in the United States at that time. (9) By 1982, media coverage of such acts was being discussed within the media itself, (10) in general publications, (11) and in higher education journals, both in the schools of journalism (12) and law. (13)

In 1982, the ability to cover publicity-seeking crime and broadcast it quickly and to large numbers of people was only in its infancy. Electronic news gathering ("ENG") (14) had only just begun (15) Satellite broadcasting technology, enabling broadcasts from a distance, had only been developed in 1962, (16) the United States had only placed its first true geostationary satellite in space in 1974 (17) and by 1979, the United States had only three geostationary satellites in space. (18) Cable television was a recent invention with few people having access to it. (19) Mobile phones had only just been introduced to journalism in the 1980s, (20) and did not contain texting or imaging capabilities as they do today. Digital cameras were not created until the late 1990s. (21) The Internet was in its infancy, (22) the IBM personal computer having only been created in 1981. (23) The first twenty-four hour news channel, Cable News Network ("CNN"), was only launched in 1980. (24) Of course, today, all major media outlets have websites.

Since 1982, there have been at least 522 documented incidents of non-state sponsored terrorism throughout the world, (25) thirty-seven on American soil or targeting American citizens or assets. (26) Today, publicity-seeking criminals--such as Osama Bin Laden, (27) the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, (28) and Jack McClellan (29)--unabashedly use the media to carry their message directly to the world.

Since 1982, the lower federal courts in the United States have dealt with the balance between media and the First Amendment in only limited ways. They have dealt with the reporter's privilege and found it insufficient to block the government's access to phone records relevant to funding of terrorism (30) or defendants' access to videotaped interviews of terrorists, (31) they have restricted media coverage of deportation proceedings where terrorism is involved, (32) and they have found no right of the media to imbed a journalist with the troops.

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