Briefs & Comments

  • January 30, 2017

    John D’Anna, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, wrote a story several years ago based upon two interviews he had conducted with Father Joseph Terra, a victim of aggravated assault. D’Anna received a subpoena from the criminal defendant, requiring D’Anna to appear in court and produce all notes and materials related to the interview. D’Anna and Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. (“PNI”) filed a motion to quash the subpoena. The trial court denied PNI’s motion to quash, but the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s decision, finding that reporters have a First Amendment qualified privilege against the compelled disclosure of information obtained during newsgathering. The Arizona Supreme Court then accepted review.

  • January 24, 2017

    John and Jane Steinmetz filed a defamation lawsuit against a landscaping design company, after an argument following a government body's rejection of the Steinmetz's construction plans. The defendant moved to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute, but the plaintiffs argued that the statute did not apply in federal court and was an unconstitutional denial of a jury trial under the 7th Amendment. The district court dismissed the suit. On appeal, the Reporters Committee and Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit. The brief focuses on the history and public policy of anti-SLAPP legislation and how these statutes are necessary for a healthy press.

  • December 28, 2016

    The Detroit Free Press sought to obtain the booking photos of federal indictees who had been publiicly named and had appeared in open court through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The U.S. Marshals Service denied the request, citing Exemption 7(C) of FOIA. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the Detroit Free Press. On appeal before the entire circuit court, the Sixth Circuit held that individuals maintain a "non-trival privacy interest" in booking photos. In response, the Detroit Free Press has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review. In support of the petition, the Reporters Committee argues that the booking photos of federal indictees do not implicate any cognizable privacy interests under the Constitution or the common law and should not be exempt from FOIA under Exemption 7(C).

  • December 22, 2016

    The Reporters Committee submitted comments to the Department of Justice regarding its implementation of a "Release to One, Release to All" policy for the federal Freedom of Information Act. The comments were based on an RCFP survey of journalists concerning various aspects of posting records responsive to FOIA requests online.

  • December 12, 2016

    University of Virginia administrator Nicole P. Eramo sued Rolling Stone LLC, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and Wenner Media LLC for an article posted on Rolling Stone's website entitled "A Rape on Campus." The jury found Erdely liable for her reporting, and found that while Rolling Stone was not liable for defamation when the article was posted on November 19, 2014 because it had no actual malice then, appending an editor's note on top of the original page was a republication of the article, and the news site thus became liable only after that was done. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight media companies argued in support of the publishers' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict that editor’s notes serve the public interest, and publishers should not be penalized for informing the public of developing information and explaining their newsgathering decisions when inaccuracies are discovered.

  • November 4, 2016

    The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 29 media organizations in intervening in a French high court case between Google and the CNIL, the French privacy authority that enforces the data privacy directive. Google had been ordered to delist certain articles from its search results when searches are conducted by name. Google had complied with the demains within Europe, but the CNIL had ordered that the delisting command apply to Google domains worldwide.  The media coalition argued that French authorities had no right to force their interests on Internet users in other countries, and allowing such worldwide restrictions in the interest of enforcing domestic law would lead many other countries to try to restrict Internet access. The coalition brief was written with attorneys from WilmerHale.

  • November 4, 2016

    The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 29 media organizations in intervening in a French high court case between Google and the CNIL, the French privacy authority that enforces the data privacy directive. Google had been ordered to delist certain articles from its search results when searches are conducted by name. Google had complied with the demains within Europe, but the CNIL had ordered that the delisting command apply to Google domains worldwide.  The media coalition argued that French authorities had no right to force their interests on Internet users in other countries, and allowing such worldwide restrictions in the interest of enforcing domestic law would lead many other countries to try to restrict Internet access. The coalition brief was written with attorneys from WilmerHale.

  • November 1, 2016

    The Reporters Committee, joined by 31 news organizations, filed a brief in the Third Circuit in support of two individuals who had been arrested for photographing police officers during arrests. The district court in Philadelphia had held that individuals have no First Amendment right to record officers in public unless they do so to criticize the police. The amicus brief argued that photos and videos provided by citizens and bystandards are valuable to the news media and the public, and taking such images should be encouraged.

  • October 28, 2016

    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in the Second Circuit with 26 media organizations arguing that details of an auditor’s report of HSBC Bank should be public. The auditor reports the bank’s compliance with a deferred prosecution agreement, as part of which HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion for money laundering. The brief argued that there is an overwhelming public interest in access to court documents involving newsworthy material, and that unsealing the monitor’s report will serve the vital functions of discouraging government misconduct and promoting informed public discourse.

  • October 6, 2016

    Christopher Porco filed a right of publicity claim under New York Civil Rights Law Section 51, arguing that Lifetime's broadcast of a film about his crime was "substantially fictionalized" and for commercial purposes. The Reporters Committee focused on the fact that under the statute, Lifetime could only be held liable if it broadcast the film “for advertising or for purposes of trade.” Having such a narrow scope, Section 51 did not apply to the docudrama, which did not use the plaintiff’s likeness for either of these reasons but rather to describe an actual event of public interest.

  • October 3, 2016

    Plaintiffs Ray Askins and Christian Ramirez sued the Department of Homeland Security to challenge policies of Customs and Border Protection that ban photography at United States ports of entry without advanced permission from CBP. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs, arguing that policies that restrict the news media's ability to photograph or record activity at the US border impinge upon the press's constitutionally protected rights to gather news and report on matters of public concern. We argued that photography and recording are essential elements of reporting on matters of public concern, including those that arise at the border; that strong public policy rationales underlie a First Amendment right to photograph public officials such as CBP officials; and that national security concerns do not provide a compelling interest that justifies the CBP photography policies.

  • September 30, 2016

    A Hungarian journalist at abcug.hu, an online news portal, was denied access to two Hungarian refugee camps. A report by the Hungarian Commissioner for Fundamental Rights described these conditions as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment. His requests were denied based on the privacy interests of the refugees. The Reporters Committee joined a coalition that intervened in the case, arguing that European Union law allowed journalists to report on important public controversies like this.

  • September 29, 2016

    Reporter Mattathias Schwatz filed a FOIA lawsuit challenging the DEA's refusal to release a video of a May 2012 DEA-led raid in Honduras that involved the use of deadly force against civilians. The government maintained the video fell within the scope of Exemption 7(E), which protects law enforcement techniques and procedures. After an in-camera review of the video and several declarations, the district court held that the video was not exempt and ordered it released. The DEA appealed the ruling to the Second Circuit.

  • September 26, 2016

    In this case, the District Court recognized that the nondisclosure requirements in a National Security Letter statute (18 U.S.C. § 2709(c)) amount to a prior restraint, it nonetheless applied a lesser level of scrutiny than prior restraints receive. The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Reporters Committee argued the district court's permissive standard is only appropriate in limited circumstances, such as licensing regimes for obscene movies. Section 2709(c), on the other hand, restrains speech on matters of public concern. The brief concluded that a ruling by the Ninth Circuit finding the nondisclosure provision is anything less than a classic prior restraint - requiring the highest burden on the government - will weaken essential constitutional protections guaranteeing the free flow of information to the public.

  • September 16, 2016

    Resolute sued Greenpeace in federal court in Georgia (S.D. Ga., Augusta division) for counts including five separate racketeering violations, defamation, tortious interference with business relations, and trademark dilution. Greenpeace filed motions to dismiss and to strike in early September, emphasizing the application of Georgia's amended anti-SLAPP statute in federal court and Resolute's attempt to "masquerade" what is really a defamation claim as a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). The Reporters Committee and other amici argued first that Resolute cannot be permitted to circumvent the First Amendment by disguising a defamation claim as a RICO violation. Resolute attempted to silence and penalize speech about a matter of public concern, which, if upheld, would undoubtedly cause a chilling effect on speech.