News

Format: 2016-05-05
Format: 2016-05-05
April 28, 2016
The FBI failed to follow its own rules when agents impersonated an Associated Press reporter in order to locate a criminal suspect in 2007, according to documents newly released in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and The Associated Press. The documents further show that after the impersonation became public, an FBI analysis determined that the non-compliance was reasonable, raising questions about the efficacy of the guidelines altogether. The Reporters Committee and AP sued the FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice last August for records related to the FBI’s practice of impersonating the news media.
April 25, 2016
In a New York Times op-ed, Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Daphne Keller, director of intermediary liability at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and a former associate general counsel for Google, caution against creating online barriers to information under European privacy laws. They write, in part:
December 18, 2015
What constitutes a waiver of the reporter’s privilege is largely unchartered territory for courts, leaving journalists with little case law to rely on when determining whether to respond to subpoenas. This week a California federal court shed light on the scope of waiver by recognizing a journalist’s right to refuse to produce unpublished notes even after disclosing some components of her reporting. The court also held the defendant did not overcome the qualified reporter’s privilege because it did not exhaust alternative means for obtaining the requested information. The shield law issue emerged out of a class action lawsuit filed in 2014 by the estates of 78 miners who died in a 1968 explosion at the No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the Consolidation Coal Company, owners of the mine, for fraud, concealment, and nondisclosure.
December 3, 2015
Determining whether a statement is a fact or opinion can make or break a defamation claim. Recently, two courts — the high court in Massachusetts and a federal district court in Virginia — dismissed defamation suits after ruling the statements were opinions based on facts disclosed by the journalist, reminding reporters to support their opinions with facts to limit liability. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held articles published by the Boston Herald regarding the suicide of Brad Delp, the lead singer of the rock band Boston, were protected as opinion, ending a five-year court battle.
November 20, 2015
Photographic evidence recently helped a New York trial judge find a New York City police officer guilty of fabricating a record to justify his arrest of a freelance photographer back in 2012. Officer Michael Ackermann arrested New York Times freelancer Robert Stolarik as he was taking pictures of a street fight in the Bronx. Ackermann testified in court documents that officers had been giving out a number of disperse orders when Stolarik blinded Ackermann and interfered with arrests of others on the street by flashing his camera light at the officer’s face.
October 30, 2015
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law an act extending libel retraction and damages provisions to print and online publications. Assembly Bill 998 replaces the term “newspaper” with “daily or weekly news publication.” This alteration extends libel protections to online daily or weekly publications which were not protected under the original legislation. Section 1 of AB 998 states “it is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that weekly and online publications are afforded the same protection under Section 48a of the Civil Code as is afforded to a daily newspaper to the extent that the weekly and online publications perform the same news-disseminating function as a daily newspaper.”
October 29, 2015
Open-government advocates warned District of Columbia officials last week that exemption of all police body-worn camera footage showing "assaults" will undermine the very purpose of the program, as will other provisions designed to delay or deny the release of footage to the public. The discussion came at a D.C. Council committee's public hearing to discuss three proposed amendments regarding the Metropolitan Police Department’s bodycam program. The debate centered on how to balance transparency and privacy concerns and whether police body-worn camera recordings should be granted special treatment outside the existing D.C. Freedom of Information Act. “It is our view that body camera footage is just another public record in simply different format,” said Rebecca Snyder, the President of Maryland, Delaware and D.C. Press Association President.
October 29, 2015
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) ruled last week that Muslim plaintiffs can pursue a lawsuit against the City of New York for its police department’s secret surveillance of their communities in New Jersey. “No one should ever be spied on and treated like a suspect simply because of his or her faith,” lead plaintiff of the lawsuit, Farhaj Hassan told Muslim Advocates. The decision reinstates a case that had been dismissed after the district court judge found that the harm had been caused by the AP's reporting on the police surveillance, not by the police department itself.
October 22, 2015
With new amendments to the state shield law, journalists in Montana will not have to worry about electronic communications services turning over reporters's records to the government. House Bill 207, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, "prohibits government bodies from requesting or requiring disclosure of privileged news media information from services that transmit electronic communications." The bill was signed into law in April and took effect on Oct. 1 as an amendment to the existing Montana shield law, known as the "Media Confidentiality Act."
October 16, 2015
The Federal Aviation Association missed their Sept. 30, 2015 deadline, mandated by Congress in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, for the full integration of civil drones into the National Airspace System, leaving unresolved the issue of how and when the news media might be able to use drones in newsgathering. According to NBC News, an FAA spokesperson stated final regulations for drones should be in place “late next spring.” “We have been consistent in saying that we're going to move as quickly as possible,” the FAA spokesperson said to NBC News. “But the integration of unmanned aircraft into the nation's airspace is going to have to proceed on an incremental basis.”
October 7, 2015
A recent ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court in a death penalty records case could jeopardize many more open records requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, after the court held that a government agency can withhold an entire document if any portion is exempt and would have to be redacted. The case started with a victory in Fairfax Circuit Court for Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), who had requested information from the Department of Corrections about the state's methods for executions and the facilities where they are conducted. The department appealed, and the state Supreme Court ruled that state law does not require officials to redact documents. If information in a document is exempt from disclosure, the court said, the entire document can be withheld.
September 30, 2015
Although D.C. police officials said one of the aims of its police body camera program was to increase the police's accountability to the public, the public has yet to view any of the footage after repeated public records requests, experts said at a recent panel discussion. A panel of open record and privacy advocates, including two members of the Reporters Committee staff, explored the current state of police body camera programs and why the recordings have been shielded from the public at an event organized by the D.C. Open Government Coalition and hosted at the Newseum on Sept. 16.
September 30, 2015
The recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals (9th Cir.) to require copyright owners to consider "fair uses" of their work before requesting takedowns may be a double-edged sword for journalists and bloggers who work with online content.
September 22, 2015
Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, and the Sacramento City Attorney are now resisting efforts by two separate news organizations to gain access to public records, according to a recent filing in a California court. The development is the latest twist in an unusual public records dispute in which Johnson has sued his own city and the Sacramento News & Review in an effort to prevent the release of email requested by the newspaper under the California Public Records Act. Now both the mayor and the city’s attorney are trying to keep Deadspin, which also requested the email, out of the case.
August 4, 2015
The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho struck down Idaho’s “ag-gag” law, which criminalized undercover investigations in which animal cruelty was filmed and publicized. A coalition of animal right groups and activists challenged the law, and the Reporters Committee led a coalition of sixteen news organizations in filing an amicus brief in December, arguing that the law infringed on constitutionally protected newsgathering rights.