Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Asked and Answered

Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Asked and Answered

Article excerpt

The Reporters Committee attorneys discuss questions about recent issues in media law.

Answers are not meant to be relied upon as legal advice specific to any reader's situation, but are for informational purposes to help journalists understand how the law affects their work.

Q: Can I film outside a federal government building?

A: This question turns on whether the property is a "public forum" or a "nonpublic forum public property." Reporters, and the general public as well, have more rights on the former than on the latter.

Public forums are publicly owned and open to the general public. Examples are municipal sidewalks, streets, and parks.

Nonpublic forums include government property that has not traditionally been open to the public. Examples include schools, prisons, and the inside of government buildings.

Few cases deal specifically with journalists' rights on these types of property. However, the media have at least as much access to places as the general public. There are many decisions on what rights members of the public - most often protesters - have outside of government buildings. Reporters should draw analogies with those cases.

The government cannot deny people access to places designated as public forums, but it can impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on activities. These restrictions must be content neutral; narrowly tailored; serve a significant government interest; and leave open alternative channels of communication. For instance, police may be able to limit public access from government property when they believe it is necessary for public safety or to prevent interference with an investigation.

Designation of a space as a "nonpublic forum" does not mean that a reporter has no right to gather news there. Rather, it means that the government can exclude reporters, and other members of the public, if authorities can show that access would interfere with normal operations of the facility. …

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