Briefs & Comments

  • September 24, 2014

    Freelance journalist Wayne Anderson had his "embed" status terminated by the military, and he was removed from Afghanistan. Anderson claimed the termination was in retaliation for his coverage of a conflict between Afghan and American soldiers. His case was dismissed by a federal judge over jurisdictional and service issues. In this brief on appeal, the Reporters Committee argued that Anderson sufficiently pleaded a First Amendment retaliation claim, as a pro se litigant, and the District Court should not have dismissed the claim so early.

     

  • September 22, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter on behalf of 44 news organizations to the Department of Justice urging officials to include police interaction with the press and public in the investigation of the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August.

  • September 22, 2014

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB") asked for comments regarding a proposed policy whereby it would post consumer complaint narratives in its online Consumer Complaint Database on an opt-in basis. Previously, only aggregate data from complaints submitted to the CFPB was available through the database. The CFPB's proposed policy statement changed this by allowing consumers to have any narrative included in their complaint publicly published on an opt-in basis. The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of news media organizations, submitted comments arguing that all consumer complaint narratives should be published. The disclosure of such comments "would assist journalists who seek to supplement the numbers already made available through the Database with the powerful firsthand experiences of individual consumers," and therefore the public interest weighs heavily in favor of their disclosure, the letter argued.

  • September 11, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of media and transparency organizations in the California Court of Appeals to support public access to government records. The case involves access to law enforcement records under California’s Public Records Act (PRA). The original request in the case sought records from the San Diego Police Department regarding six months’ worth of complaints and/or requests for assistance with respect to burglary and identity theft. While the police department released 60 days’ worth of records, it refused to release them for the full six months requested, stating that their obligation to respond under the PRA was “limited to current information of contemporaneous police activity.” That decision was upheld by the Superior Court of California, resulting in an appeal.

  • September 9, 2014

    The Reporters Committee, joined by 17 other news organizations, submitted an amicus brief in a federal case against the federal government over its collection of telephone log records. Plaintiff Anna Smith filed a lawsuit against the government alleging that its mass collection and logging of telephone call data violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The district court denied Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief, and granted the government's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiff. Citing the close relationship between the First and Fourth Amendments, the Reporters Committee urged the Ninth Circuit on appeal to consider the impact of mass, indiscriminate government call tracking on the ability of the press to gather and disseminate news of public importance.

  • August 29, 2014

    The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board sought comments on what issues it should examine as a long-term agenda. The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 24 media organizations in urging the board to investigate the extent to which journalists are being included within the scope of any national security surveillance programs.

  • August 28, 2014

    The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service has requested public comment on a proposal that could make aggregated food stamp redemption data public record under FOIA. The questions FNS posed have to do with whether such data at the individual store level should be considered exempt under (b)(4) as a confidential business record. The Reporters Committee urged FNS to recognize that this information is public and not exempt under any FOIA exemption.

  • August 22, 2014

    The case interprets 18 U.S.C. 875(c), which prohibits interstate transmission of a threatening communication. Mr. Elonis posted on his Facebook page several raps about his ex-wife and the judge presiding over their child custody battle. The appeal turns on whether "true threats" -- which are not protected speech -- should be evaluated based on the speaker's subjective intent to threaten, or based on whether an objective/reasonable listener would take the statements as threats. We argue that a subjective intent test is necessary to protect members of the media and provide the broadest leeway for protected commentary, satire and reporting. We do not argue that Mr. Elonis should escape liability for his statements, but rather that the test the lower court applied was erroneous.

  • August 15, 2014

    The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 48 media organizations in protesting the treatment of journalists and withholding of important information in the aftermath of a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

  • August 15, 2014

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Louisiana Press Association, and Gannett Co., Inc. and its six Louisiana outlets filed a public comment in opposition to proposed changes to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Louisiana Local Rule 47.5 (Interviewing Jurors). The proposed rule would ban jurors from ever discussing a wide range of topics about deliberations and why they voted as they did. The Reporters Committee argues that the proposed rule change is inconsistent with the First Amendment rights of not only the jurors, but also of the news media that covers the courts and the public that needs to know how justice is administered.

  • August 11, 2014

    The Reporters Committee and 26 others filed an amicus brief in the D.C. Court of Appeals. Michael Mann, a climate scientist, has sued various publications, claiming he was defamed by a statement saying he was "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data." The National Review and CEI filed anti-SLAPP motions, which were denied. The amicus brief argues that denials of a special motion to dismiss under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute must be  immediately appealable, and that the statements at issue are constitutionally protected opinion and fair comment, particularly given the context in which they appeared.

  • July 31, 2014

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the NSA and government agencies on behalf of AT&T customers. EFF argues that the government's dragnet surveillance of AT&T customers' communications is unconstitutional. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and 18 other media organizations, filed an amicus brief in support of EFF's motion for partial summary judgment. The media coalition argues that widespread surveillance has a corrosive effect on journalists' ability to report on matters of public interest. Journalists rely on confidentiality when developing stories about sensitive topics, but reporters and editors at major news outlets have said that NSA surveillance programs have made sources less willing to talk with them.

  • July 30, 2014

    Hadeed Carpet Cleaning sued seven Yelp reviewers for libel, saying it suspects they were not customers but competitors intentionally lying about the companey. Hadeed subpoenaed Yelp for the reviewers' identities, and Yelp argued that the reviewers' speech was protected by the First Amendment and their identities should not be revealed. The Reporters Committee and 16 others filed an amicus brief in the Virginia Supreme Court, arguing that anonymous speech on matters of public concern, especially anonymous commentary on news websites, is vital to public participation and must be protected. The brief further argues that the Virginia unmasking statute must be interpreted robustly, so that a plaintiff is required to provide sufficient evidence to support its claim before it may unmask an anonymous speaker.

  • July 21, 2014

    A FOIA request concerning a criminal investigation of a priest over a sexual abuse allegation was denied by prosecutors who said they would not disclose whether an investigation was going on. We filed an amicus brief joined by 25 other news organizations. We argued that a "neither confirm nor deny" response is not appropriate for state government records requests, as it was developed at the federal level to protect national security interests and has since morphed into a broad and damaging secrecy tool.

  • July 10, 2014

    The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a civil rights case, finding that the Muslim plaintiffs who alleged that the NYPD's surveillance of them violated their civil rights did not have standing to sue. The court found that the harm caused by the surveillance program was attributable to the news reporting of the Associated Press in breaking news of the surveillance. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and North Jersey Media Group Inc. argued in this brief that the court's decision to blame the media instead of the government entity that ran the surveillance program misapplies the law of Article III standing. It also threatens the protections that the Supreme Court has given to the free press, and ignores that the AP's reporting fits into the American tradition of watchdog journalism that has led to important debate and reform.