Chapter 7

Newsgathering – The Pitfalls and Protections

Newsgathering largely revolves around access-whether journalists have access to information-to potentially newsworthy documents, records, people and places. 

The First Amendment protects an individual’s right to peacefully and nondisruptively record public police activity. Polling places should be open to the press, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled. Police violate the Fourth Amendment rights of homeowners when they allow members of the media to accompany them during the execution of a warrant in their home. So, a search warrant entitles officers, not reporters, when they tag along for a ride-along. In 2009 the government allows news media to photograph Military coffins with family consent. Using material from social media may be perilous. Covert recording, recording conversations and behavior without the knowledge of those being recorded, violates some federal laws (depending on the state). However, face-to-face recording, where the person being recorded is aware they’re being recorded, is permitted by all federal laws. Wiretap Act is a federal law that protects the privacy of phone calls and other oral communications, making it illegal to intercept, record, disseminate or use a private communication without a participant’s permission. The law allows the government to bring criminal charges and those whose privacy was violated to sue for civil damages. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled that journalists who do not illegally record an intercepted newsworthy telephone conversation are not liable for its broadcast. Under some conditions, Internet service providers may also disclose the identity of senders and the content of private Internet communications with liability. 

States that Forbid Unathorized use of cameras in private places:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Maine 
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire 
  • South Dakota
  • Utah

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)  – 1966 – requires records held by federal government agencies e made available to the public, provided that the information sought does not fall within one of nine extempted categories. A record is anything in documentary form, which includes computer-stored records, and the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (EFOIA) – 1996 – mandates disclosure of records in the format chosen by the requester if that format is available as part of the agency’s normal business procedures. FOIA was intended to shed light on the workings of the government. The exemptions are permissive; they allow but do not require government to withhold the identified records. 

FOIA Exemptions:

  • National Security
  • Internal Agency Rules and Procedures
  • Disclosures Forbidden by Other Statutes
  • Trade Secrets
  • Agency Memoranda
  • Personal Privacy
  • Law Enforcement Records
  • Financial Records
  • Geological Information 

Government in the Sunshine Act – “Federal Open Meetings Law” 1976 – mandates federal government agencies to be open to the public unless al or some part of a meeting is exempted according to exceptions outlined in the law. Like access to federal records, obtaining access to U.S. Military operations can be challenging.  The history in this area is one of give-and-take, with the government attempting to exert more control in recent decades. Thanks, Trump. 


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