Category Archives: politics

Media Law Case of the Week

When is a libel threat really an attempt to muffle criticism, in particular press criticism?

Journalists at an Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, argue that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is trying to use his libel suit against the paper to do just that — shut up opposing voices, according to UK newspaper The Guardian.

And what did this paper do that the Prime Minister did not like?

La Repubblica has asked that Berlusconi answer “10 New Questions” about his relationships with several women — some of whom are reported to be prostitutes and at least one a minor.

The Guardian reports that the Italian newspaper is trying to get 500,000 people to sign an online petition calling for press freedom by Oct. 3 and that newspaper editors in Britain, Germany, Spain and France have signed it.

If you’d like to sign it, click here. To easily translate the petition from Italian to English, you can use Babel Fish.

Food for thought: Job of the journalist

These were powerful, insightful words.

“Right now, part of the job of a journalist is advocating for the job of journalist.”

Kimberly Humphreys, a journalist with the Rocky Mountain News when it closed in February 2009, should know.

She now works for the Rocky Mountain Independent, an online news site started by some former Rocky Mountain News staffers. She’s also director of IWantMyRocky.com, an ambitious initiative orignally started to save the Rocky Mountain News that now is trying to save journalism itself. (See what IWantMyRocky wants to do here.)

Last week she spoke  as part of panel called “Journalism at the Crossroads: After Newspapers, Then What?” aimed at journalism educators. The session was part of the national convention for  the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication held in Boston.

Humphreys noted that traditionally the editorial and business side of newspapers have been separate in the name of objectivity. Journalists did not want an appearance of conflict of interest when writing stories. She argued that the time to change that tradition has come  because this separation means journalists have no voice in what is going on in their newspapers.

“We need to pull up a seat at that table,” Humphreys urged.

Her message is an important one for journalism educators to keep in mind.  As we prepare students for the changing world of journalism, we should make them aware of this responsibility.

Good journalism depends on it.

Free speech in jeopardy post-9/11

If you value free speech (and who doesn’t?), this will send a chill down your spine. I know it did mine.

Newsweek, the LA Times and other media outlets are reporting that a Justice Department memo secretly advised the Bush administration that it could suspend First Amendment speech rights if needed to fight the war on terror. The memo on “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States” was issued in October 2001 and not revoked until seven years later, right before Bush left office.

What?!

This memo, released with others this week by the Obama adminstration, also  indicated it would be legal to spy on Americans with high tech equipment and deploy the U.S. military within the U.S. itself for operations against terrorists.  “We believe these operations generally would not be subject to the constraints of the Fourth Amendment, so long as the armed forces are undertaking a military function,” the memo concludes.

Ah, the Fourth Amendment. What was that one about again? That’s right–unreasonable search and seizures.

And what does this memo say about our beloved First Amendment?

“First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully,” the memo states on Page 24.

See the memo for yourself here.

Records request takes 3+ years?!

Mark Schleifstein of The Times-Picayune writes of his three-plus year stuggle to get Federal Emergency Management Agency records related to Katrina — records that should be available to the public.

He’s still waiting.

Schleifstein is seeking records about the types and amounts of help people in the affected areas needed after Katrina. His tale of bureaucracy woe would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

It is clear that federal government officials have been hoping he will go away.  When he gets a response, he is asked if he still wants the records. Of course he does!

This isn’t surprising, given former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s memo that in essence encourages non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

But let’s hope this changes. After all, President Obama has already made compliance with FOIA a priority and issued a memo Jan. 21 that states

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.

See the full Obama memo here.

Journalists spied on, former gov official says

In a chilling interview with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann a former National Security  Agency analyst alleges the NSA was spying on journalists and news organizations and then lying about it. Why? Russell Tice said he does not know, but it disturbed him. See the interview for yourself here.

Shoe-throwing reporter seeks Swiss asylum

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush is reportedly seeking asylum in Switzerland. His brother told the BBC that journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi has been severely beaten while in custody. He has been imprisoned in Iraq since the mid-December incident.

Strip searched for a libel suit

Can you imagined being awoken at 6:40 a.m., handcuffed and strip searched twice in the same month because someone in the justice system wanted to talk to you about a libel case?

According to Washington Post writer Edward Cody, that is exactly what happened to a French editor of the Liberation daily in Paris. An investigating magistrate said she took the action because the journalist hadn’t responded when summoned.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to eliminate investigative magistrates because of abuses of power and a need for a greater presumption of innocence for the accused, Cody reports.  While his idea apparently has a lot of support, my guess is the investigating magistrates will be buying a lot of Sarkozy voodoo dolls in the coming days.

Photo of Sarkozy voodoo doll by Associated Press

Photo of Sarkozy voodoo doll by Associated Press