Study of the laws and legal precedents that
apply to the mass media.
Journalists should consult attorney specializing in
media law for guidance in specific situations.
Most newspapers keep lawyers on retainer for
just such situations.
The most fundamental law of journalism in
the United States is the First Amendment to
“Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
government for a redress of grievances.”
There are very few legal restrictions on
newspapers and magazines under criminal
law, but journalists can be sued under civil
Lawsuits brought by individuals rather than the
People can sue each other if they feel they have
People sue journalists when they feel that a news
story harmed them.
The most important legal issue for journalists
is libel law.
Libel is a false and defamatory statement that is
Statement must have caused harm to the plaintiff.
Statement must be false.
Statement must have been published.
Calling a doctor a “quack”
Calling a teacher a “pedophile”
Supreme Court case made it harder for public
figures to collect damages in libel cases.
New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)
“debate on public issues should be inhibited, robust
and wide-open and that it my well include vehement,
caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on
Truth is a defense in libel cases.
In any libel suit (whether by public official or
If plaintiff cannot prove the statement false, there
is no libel.
Make sure everything you print is true.
The right of fair comment protects reviewers
from libel suits.
Protection when reviewing a public performance
and make comments about the quality of the
Cherry Sisters and Iowa Supreme Court (1901)
Certain statements are “privileged,” which
protects journalists from libel suits.
Law of privileged statements
Journalist cannot be found guilty of libel for reprinting
accurately testimony made in court, statements made
on the floor of a legislative body, and certain official
documents, including police reports.
Importance of free reporting of these documents outweighs
any harm done if statements turn out to be false or
The word allegedly is no protection in a libel
If allegations are made, it is duty of reporter to say
who is making the allegation.
If police have charged someone, report it that way.
People are entitled to a reasonable
expectation of privacy.
Right to privacy is not explicitly stated in the
Courts have held that Americans do have such a right.
People occasionally sue journalists for invading
Plain view of general public
There is a big difference between what is
legal and what is ethical.
Media and ethics are two plural words.
Intermediate substance that carries something from a
source to a receiver.
A moral principle of conduct.
There is no one code of ethics for all
Society of Professional Journalists
American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE)
National Press Photographers Association
Radio-Television News Directors Association
The Associated Press
The New York Times
The Los Angeles Times
The Washington Post
Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest.
Accepting gifts raises ethical issues for
American Society of Newspaper Editors:
Reporters “should neither accept anything nor pursue
any activity that might compromise or seem to
compromise their integrity.”
The use of off-the-record information raises
serious ethical issues.
David Shaw, media critic at the Los Angeles
“I can think of no common journalistic shortcoming
more threatening to media credibility than over-
reliance on unnamed sources…Almost invariably they
[people] assume that any quote without a name
attached to it was made up by the reporter.”
Sometimes reporting news can make the
journalist part of the problem.
Rights of a free press can conflict with the
rights to a fair trial.
Notions of good taste, profanity, obscenity,
and pornography vary widely.
“I’ll whip his a**.”
In deciding whether or not something is
ethical, it may help to ask yourself if you
could justify it to someone whose respect you
A good journalist should strive to “do no