Legal Considerations in Journalism

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					Legal Considerations
       in Journalism
              EH 1341
              EH 2341
Media Law
   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.
Legal Considerations
   The most fundamental law of journalism in
    the United States is the First Amendment to
    the Constitution:
       “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.”
Legal Considerations
   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
        been harmed.
           People sue journalists when they feel that a news
            story harmed them.
Legal Considerations
   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”
Legal Considerations
   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
            public officials.”
Legal Considerations
   Truth is a defense in libel cases.
       In any libel suit (whether by public official or
        private citizen)
       If plaintiff cannot prove the statement false, there
        is no libel.
           Make sure everything you print is true.
Legal Considerations
   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)
Legal Considerations
   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
Legal Considerations
   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.
Legal Considerations
   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
        their privacy.
           Plain view of general public
Ethical Considerations
         in Journalism
Ethical Considerations
   There is a big difference between what is
    legal and what is ethical.
Ethical Considerations
   Media and ethics are two plural words.
       Media: medium
           Intermediate substance that carries something from a
            source to a receiver.
       Ethics: ethic
           A moral principle of conduct.
Ethical Considerations
   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
Ethical Considerations
   Journalists should avoid conflicts of interest.
Ethical Considerations
   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.”
Ethical Considerations
   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.”
Ethical Considerations
   Sometimes reporting news can make the
    journalist part of the problem.
Ethical Considerations
   Rights of a free press can conflict with the
    rights to a fair trial.
Ethical Considerations
   Notions of good taste, profanity, obscenity,
    and pornography vary widely.
       Jimmy Carter
           “I’ll whip his a**.”
Ethical Considerations
   In deciding whether or not something is
    ethical, it may help to ask yourself if you
    could justify it to someone whose respect you
Ethical Considerations
   A good journalist should strive to “do no
Ethical Considerations

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