Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Litigation Frustration

Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Litigation Frustration

Article excerpt

Leading editor s ar e wor r ied that the news industr y's ability to fight for First Amendment rights in cour t is waning, a r ecent r epor t found.

In a survey of top editors from pr int and online newspaper s, 65 per cent said that news or ganizations ar e in a weaker position than they wer e 10 year s ago to pursue freedom of expression cases. While the editors expressed more confidence in their own publications' ability to take on legal cases, they tended to be mor e pessimistic about the state of the industr y as a whole.

The r epor t was r eleased Apr il 21 by the Knight Foundation in association with the American Society of News Editors, Associated Press Media Editor s and the Repor ter s Committee for Fr eedom of the Pr ess. Although not a scientific poll, the survey of 66 editors offers a glimpse into the mindset of industry leaders.

The Knight Foundation also announced on the same day a $200,000 gr ant to the Repor ter s Committee to help expand the Knight Litigation Project, which provides legal aid to journalists and news organizations pursuing newsgathering and First Amendment cases.

Economic constr aints ar e often a for midable obstacle to jour nalists who want to pur sue these cases. Of those who thought that the news industry's ability to pursue legal action was declining, nearly nine in 10 cited money as the reason.

A majority of the editors, who were mostly from large newspapers, said that their own organizations hadn't backed away from pursuing any legal cases due to lack of resources. But economic pressures could pose mor e of a pr oblem for smaller or ganizations looking to litigate Fir st Amendment cases.

"The digital disruption has uprooted the traditional business model for journalism, making it harder for newsrooms to pursue First Amendment cases and ensure the rights that it protects are upheld," said Shazna Nessa, Knight Foundation's director of journalism, in a press release.

Of the 27 percent of respondents who described money as an obstacle for their own organization, several said that Freedom of Information Act requests posed a particular challenge - whether because the fees were prohibitive or because challenging denied requests would require a costly court battle.

Some editor s also pointed to a decr ease in watchdog jour nalism thr oughout the industr y as a r eason jour nalists may be pur suing fewer cases.

"News organizations may be increasingly pursuing stories that are less likely to result in legal issues," the report said. …

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