Legal News: The Society of Professional Journalists releases its revised Code of Ethics

The Society of Professional Journalists recently revised its Code of Ethics (9/6/2104):

“Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.”

Seek Truth and Report It:  Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Minimize Harm:  Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

Act Independently:  The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

Be Accountable and Transparent:  Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.

Legal News: SCOTUSBlog denied press credentials over “conflict of interests”

Senate press gallery ignores the evolution of journalism, denies SCOTUSblog press credentials

By Mathew Ingram, gigaom.com, 6/24/2014.  

The irony couldn’t be any more stark: On Monday, at almost the exact same moment as tens of thousands of people — including dozens of professional journalists — were checking the SCOTUSblog site to see whether new decisions by the country’s top court had been posted, the site itself was being denied a press pass by the standing committee of journalists who approve such credentials for the U.S. Senate. A pass is a crucial step towards getting credentials from the court itself, something SCOTUSblog has repeatedly been prevented from having.

To anyone who follows the Supreme Court, the blog that lawyer Tom Goldstein started over a decade ago has become a must-read, not just for its wall-to-wall coverage of the court’s decisions, but in-depth analysis of those decisions and their impact. The site has won a Peabody Award — the first blog to win such an honor — as well as an award from the Society for Professional Journalists and the silver gavel award from the American Bar Association (the only blog to win one).

To the members of the Senate’s press gallery committee, however — who work for mainstream publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Roll Call — SCOTUSblog is a tangled knot of conflicted interests, because its founder and one of its writers are practicing lawyers. But doesn’t this mean that the blog’s content is likely to be even more valuable and credible to readers than the reporting of a publication with less expertise? Apparently not.

In a bizarre example of circular reasoning, the committee said in its decision that it couldn’t allow itself to consider the actual quality of the blog’s journalism — in other words, the thing that has won all the awards — because that could lead to censorship. So all the committee did was consider whether it is run by anyone who is involved in “lobbying the government,” and if so whether the publication has done enough to protect its content from any potential conflict of interest. It decided that SCOTUSblog fails both of these tests.

Although Goldstein has instituted a number of procedures to prevent his legal work from influencing the content on the blog — including a policy of assigning other writers to decisions that might affect him or his clients — the Senate committee decided that this firewall was insufficient to prevent conflicts of interest.  The fact that Goldstein also derives some publicity for himself and his firm from the blog also seemed to trouble the committee, since this presumably isn’t the kind of behavior that real journalistic organizations engage in.

As lawyer and blogger Eugene Volokh — a First Amendment expert and former Supreme Court clerk — points out in his response to the committee’s decision, the denial of credentials to what he calls “the most important and valuable source of news and analysis about the Supreme Court” isn’t just a mistake, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the internet has changed journalism.

Reading Assignments:

Hello Everyone! This week, for the Mondays only class, this week we will discuss Media Access & Regulation, and Prior Restraint.

Media Access and Regulation (Hopkins Ch10-12)

Red Lion Broadcasting vs. FCC (1969)
Banzhaf vs. FCC (DC Circuit 1968)
FECUA vs. WDAY (1959)
Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Tornillo (1974)
FCC v. Midwest Video (1979)

Prior Restraint (Hopkins Ch4)

Schenck v. US (1919)
Near v. Minnesota (1931)
Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976)
Trinity Methodist Church v. Federal Radio Commission (1932)
Freedman v. Maryland (1965)
New York Times v. US (1971)
Marchetti v. US (1972)
US v. The Progressive (1979)
Snepp v. US (1980)
US v. CNN (1990)
Tory v. Cochran (2005)

For the Tuesday/Thursday class, we will finish talking about Prior Restraint, and then discuss Symbolic Expression.

Symbolic Expression (Hopkins Ch3)

Chaplinksi v. New Hampshire (1942) revisiting

U.S. v. O’Brien (1968)

Cohen v. California (1971)

Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Barnes v. Glen Theatre (1991)

Pap’s A.M. v. Erie (2000)

Virginia v. Black (2003)

Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010)

FCC v. League of Women Voters of California (1984)

Turner Broadcasting v. FCC (1997) revisiting

Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011)

Let me know if you have any questions.  See you in class!

Reading Assignment (T/Th): Prior Restraint

Hello, Everyone! For the Tuesday/Thursday class, tomorrow we’ll be discussing Media Law and Prior Restraint. Please read Hopkins chapter 4, and be prepared to discuss the following cases:

Schenck v. US (1919)
Near v. Minnesota (1931)
Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976)
Trinity Methodist Church v. Federal Radio Commission (1932)
Freedman v. Maryland (1965)
New York Times v. US (1971)
Marchetti v. US (1972)
US v. The Progressive (1979)
Snepp v. US (1980)
US v. CNN (1990)
Tory v. Cochran (2005)

Let me know if you have any questions. See you in class!

Event Announcement: “Reporting Abuses of Power: The Truth-Telling Role of Journalists” with Charles Lewis

Charles Lewis

The Department of Communication will host renowned investigative reporter and best selling author Charles Lewis for a talk on Thursday, Sept. 18 from 2PM to 4PM, 25 Park Place. Lewis, who is the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University, will discuss the role journalists play in unveiling abuses of power. His talk, followed by a Q&A session, will be in the Communication Department’s conference room on the 8th floor.

This is a wonderful opportunity for students and faculty to hear from one of the leading figures in investigative reporting.

Lewis Bio: Best-selling author and investigative journalist Charles Lewis is the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University. A former ABC News and CBS News “60 Minutes” producer, Lewis founded the award-winning Center for Public Integrity as well as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. He received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1998 and the PEN USA First Amendment award in 2004. The Encyclopedia of Journalism has called Lewis “one of the 30 most notable investigative reporters in the U.S. since World War I.” His latest book is 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity (www.935lies.com).

Reading Assignment (T/Th): Media Access and Regulation

Hello Everyone! For the Mondays-only class, this week we’ll be discussing First Amendment Interpretation and the Development of Press Freedoms. Please see the post below for your reading assignment and cases to prepare.

For the Tuesday/Thursday class, on Tuesday (9/9) we’ll discuss Media Access and Regulation. Your reading assignment is Hopkins chapters 10-12 (look for the sections on broadcast access, political access, print access and cable television access), as well as the following cases:

Red Lion Broadcasting vs. FCC (1969)
Banzhaf vs. FCC (DC Circuit 1968)
FECUA vs. WDAY (1959)
Miami Herald Publishing Company v. Tornillo (1974)
FCC v. Midwest Video (1979)

Let me know if you have any questions. See you in class!

Legal News: Can broadcasters charge for news coverage?

Maxima 99 logo

From RadioInk.com, 8-21-2014:  “Is is appropriate to charge for news coverage?”

“In Nogales, Arizona there’s an interesting dispute going on between city officials and the management at KOFH-FM (Maxima 99.1). There’s a new administration at city hall that’s unhappy with the negative news coverage from the radio station. Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino says his administration is receiving that negative coverage because he refuses to pay for it, as the previous administration had. Garino has asked the FCC to investigate the matter. General Manager Oscar Felix told The Arizona Republic that while it’s appropriate to charge for news interviews, the station’s financial arrangements with the city have no influence on news coverage and commentary. Charge for news interviews?

According to the paper, the city paid the station $24,095 for news interviews, commercials and for entertainment during a city event over a three-year period before Garino took office. $4,925 of that total was for interviews with city officials, including former Mayor Octavio Garcia-Von Borstel, who was released from prison in March after serving 2½ years on a felony corruption charge for soliciting and accepting bribes from a towing operator.

Garino told the paper that he was leaving the radio station following an interview once and the GM told him, “Next time you come to the radio station, Mayor, bring a check.” Felix denies that conversation ever took place. The paper quotes Felix saying the station covers plenty of local news at no charge. “But when it’s political campaigns, I have to charge everybody. “And, of course, when somebody needs the radio station to let the people know something, I do charge for them.” The 14-year GM says he’s disappointed only $800 has been spent by the current leadership. “It’s peanuts, you know, because any hot-dog stand, he pays more than that,” Felix said. “Any taco stand, any hot-dog stand, he pays more than $800 in three years.”

From RadioInk.com, 8-24-2104, By John Garziglia “Charging for News Coverage?  How Would the FCC look at that?”

Charging for news coverage — dollars for stories – sounds like something that shocks the conscience.  A Nogales radio station is alleged to have charged its Nogales city government for positive news interviews about its municipal performance.  What, if any, might be an FCC violation here and does the city of Nogales have any valid FCC complaint because the radio station levied charges for paid news interviews?

This is a sponsorship identification issue.  Simply put, any radio station content for which a radio station or someone associated with the station receives compensation, whether it be for news stories, commentary, music, appearances or mentions, must be identified as sponsored.  If such paid-for content is not so identified, then there is a significant FCC rule violation. 

Such payments for content or coverage, if not revealed on the air in clear sponsorship identifications, are significant violations of the FCC’s sponsorship identification rules.

Notably, the sponsorship identification requirements of the FCC are criminal laws.  When the FCC and feds in the past have dealt with payola and plugola which are the extreme forms of sponsorship ID failures, there has been the potential for huge fines and even possible jail time for some violations.