Category Archives: Media Law

Migrant workers lose case against Fox

A group of migrant workers who claimed a Fox News segment called “Manhunt at the Border” defamed them by making it seem that they were the subjects of a manhunt have lost another court case.

A photo of the migrant workers was  shown during the course of the  “Hannity and Colmes” segment. According to Courthouse News Service, the 4th District Court of Appeals said the broadcast, taken as a whole, never says there was a law enforcement hunt for the workers.

Courthouse News Service provides a short summary of the case as well as a link to court documents here.


Media Law Case of the Week

Oy vey!

Woody Allen is getting $5 million from American Apparel because it used his image — or a parody of him dressed as a rabbi — in its ads without Allen’s Woody Adpermission.

The NY Post reported the settlement today — along with this image of the ad.

The Post, by the way, is dealing with its own legal troubles. A New York State Supreme Court justice is suing the newspaper for libel after a story alleged he paid to get his seat on the bench. The latest step in the case is a series of subpoenas to the judge’s family and at least eight other judges, according to the New York Times.

Media Law Case of the Week

New York state’s Open Meetings Law will get a boost if Gov. David Paterson signs an amendment to strengthen it.

The Buffalo News editorial board has urged him to do. The News writes:

The legislation includes three components. One closes an escape hatch that some public bodies have used to avoid discussing the public’s business in public. The other gives judges greater leeway in responding to violations of the Open Meetings Law, allowing them to address those transgressions without unduly harming the interests of innocent parties. Both are important revisions to what already is, by and large, a strong state law.

Most journalists are familiar with the “escape hatch” the News mentions. Some government bodies think they can circumvent the Open Meetings Law by having debates on issues behind closed doors but voting in public. This allows the public to know how their representatives have voted, but they have no sense of the debate and information provided behind closed doors.  That’s not exactly the Open Meetings Law’s purpose.

With the amendment, judges would be able to punish government bodies who do this with a fine and/or other measures.

Read the amendment for yourself — and see who voted to support it — here.

Media Law Case of the Week

Any guesses which state has had more than one thousand complaints about public officials refusing requests for information since 2005?

If you guessed Illinois, you are correct.

This week’s Media Law Case of the Week  focuses on an excellent Chicago Tribune story citing many cases

magnifying glass

magnifying glass

in which citizens were denied information from school and government officials — information that the citizens sought through public records laws.

Reporter David Kidwell writes:

A review of those complaints, along with dozens of interviews, reveals a culture of secrecy shrouding the machinery of your government. Public meetings are often theater, where votes are pro forma endorsements of decisions forged in e-mails and memos you will never be allowed to see.

Government records routinely turned over at the front counters in many other states are routinely denied here — the result of a notoriously weak open records law, an unsympathetic political culture and an attitude of disdain among many public servants who consider documents their own.

If you think those words are harsh, read the story. Kidwell offers ample evidence to support the claims.

And the Tribune is offering an “Open Records Help Desk,” a web page devoted to giving readers tips for requesting information and a database of complaints.

This is exactly the kind of watchdog reporting we need in this country. My only hope is that Kidwell is not among the Tribune staffers let go, and that news organizations still have enough journalists to do this work.

Media Law Case of the Week

Cows, you have your privacy.

The Cattle Network (yes, there is a Cattle Network) is reporting that a federal court has ruled that data collected for the National Animal Identification System is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The National Animal Identification System is used by the U.S. government to trace diseased animals/animal disease outbreaks.

I’m not sure what “sensitive information” would not be able to be released under FOIA, but The Cattle Network mentions “sensitive producer information about premises, businesses and animals .” (Seems to me if there is a disease outbreak, information needs to come out…)

I’m also not sure what FOIA exemption this falls under. Trade secrets doesn’t seem right. Maybe bovine secrets?

Media Law Case of the Week

Before I get into the Media Law Case of the Week, I want to mention the great progress the federal shield law has made. It passed in the House.  (For more specifics of what’s in it, see here.) Now on to the Senate. Fingers crossed…

And now, the case of the week has to do with invasion of privacy, a college student and My Space, the popular social networking site.

A California appellate court ruled last week that thoughts posted on My Space are not private.

The ruling stems from the interesting case of a college student who professed her hatred of her hometown on her My Space page. Her rant ran in a local paper, and her family was allegedly bombarded with hate mail.

Claiming invasion of privacy, the student and her family sued the paper, its publishers and the person who pointed out the student’s My Space musings to the newspaper. They claimed invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

They lost.

For full details of the case, including a link to the court’s ruling, see the Wall Street Journal piece here.

Supreme Court justice bobbleheads

The Green Bag: An Entertaining Journal of the Law has been making bobbleheads of Supreme Court

This bobblehead -- and others like this -- are pictured on Greenbag.

This bobblehead -- and others like this -- are pictured on Greenbag.

justices. They are hysterical, but also informative.

I used this “Annotated Bobblehead” image of Justice David Souter to tie in the 2 Live Crew “Pretty Woman” copyright case in my media law class today. The students loved it. I just wish I could get my hands on the actual bobblehead doll.

Trust me. It’s definitely work clicking the Greenbag link to check this out.

Media Law Case of the Week

Sometimes life hands you a hard decision.

Do I select the libel case of a professional golfer accused of  failing “the scoundrel sniff test” or what could be the first libel case from Twitter, centering on –of all people — rocker Courtney Love?

Sorry, John Daly, but Love beats you, but not by a Hole lot. (Sorry about the pun. I just can’t help myself.)

Fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir claims that Love is on “an obsessive and delusional crusade” on Twitter, My Space and other sites that is libeling Simorangkir. The language in the statements in question, detailed here,  will come as no surprise to those familiar with Love.

Simorangkir, who formerly designed for Love, claims that the false statements have hurt her reputation and her business.

The danger of the state of journalism

I’m normally an optimist, but I’m finding it difficult to be upbeat today. Yesterday I learned that many former colleagues of mine are among those

Danger Sign

Danger Sign

with 10-day furloughs and pension freezes as Advance Publications attempts to help the bottom line, and also that Gannett journalists I know are facing their second furlough for the same reasons.

Today I read that Janice Okun is retiring from the Buffalo News on March 31, the same day the Buffalo News had previously reported those accepting buyouts would have to be off the payroll. Thirty-six members of the Buffalo Newspaper Guild (not all editorial) took that offer. (Okun will continue writing reviews as a freelancer, but will no longer be a staffer.)

I couldn’t help thinking about all this when, in my media law class, we were talking about the importance of  Freedom of Information Act and state Freedom of Information Laws. Students brought in examples of stories where government records were used.

Among them was this gem:

The city of Auburn would not release the names of two employees who took equipment until two newspapers — The Post-Standard and The Auburn Citizen–filed a notice that they intended to sue the city for the names.

My question is, with journalists working fewer hours (if at all), who is going to do these stories? Who is going to find out about this stuff?

I know some new media types say citizen journalists or bloggers will do it. Really? In a small city like Buffalo, Rochester or Syracuse someone who works a paying job is going to have time to file foia/foil requests and hold public officials accountable?

And please don’t tell me TV and radio journalists will do it. Government record stories don’t have exciting visuals, and TV and radio journalism staffs are cut to the bone, too.

This newspaper crisis has far deeper implications than what happens to journalists. It’s about what happens to our society.

As Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” But let’s face it:  We are losing a major conduit to that power.

Media Law Case of the Week

A Staples salesman is fired, and Staples sends out an email notifying its employees that said employee was fired for violating company rules regarding expense reimbursements.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled recently that the salesman can sue for libel even though the information is true because of a 1902 Massachusetts state law that allows libel suits for “ill will.”

It is a decision that had Robert J. Ambrogi–executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Association, lawyer and Media Law blogger–issuing a prudent warning:

For the time being, however, be afraid — be very, very afraid — of this precedent. If ill will is all that is needed to turn a truthful statement into libel, then everyone is a potential defendant.

Sadly, last week, the same court refused to rehear the case. According to the Boston Globe, the court also “refused to accept a friend-of-the-court brief filed by 51 news organizations that said the earlier ruling could chill news reporting.”

For details of the case, see the Boston Globe story.