Tag Archives: freedom of information

Times media law article enlightens

Here’s the good news: Some news organizations are not letting up on legal cases to get records and information.

Here’s the bad news: Some are.

Tim Arango of the New York Times wrote an excellent piece about how Hearst and the Associated Press are continuing to fight for legal records, even if it costs them.

Unfortunately, he also writes that smaller news organizations — regional and local — have had to cut legal costs along with other costs. And the head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told him that she’s hearing about hard times for media lawyers.

I hope the Times continues to follow up on this issue. At a time when cost-cutting is the norm in the news industry, we must monitor how this cost-cutting is impacting journalism’s watchdog role.

Kudos to the Times for doing just that.


Nudity, copyright and accusations, oh my!

It’s hard to resist choosing Tiger Woods’s British court injunction to stop publication of nude photos of him as the Media Law Case of the Week, but because of the proliferation of Tiger coverage, I will abstain.

I’m also tempted to focus on the interesting debate in the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee about who is — and is not — a journalist.You can watch it for yourself here. (Start at 135 minutes in to get to this particular focus.)

But instead a copyright infringement case that comes on the heels of strangulation accusations is the Media Law Case of the Week.

Shawne Merriman, who plays for the San Diego Chargers, has accused MTV reality show star Tila Tequila of copyright and trademark infringement. The lawsuit claims that Tequila is using his image and the trademark of his company on her web site without his permission.

Last month, Tequila filed a lawsuit against Merriman, whom she claims imprisoned and tried to strangle her. (Merriman was never charged, reportedly due to lack of evidence.)

Tequila hosted a show called “A Shot At Love with Tila Tequila” in which MTV says “16 luscious lesbians and 16 sexy straight guys” compete to be with Tila, a bisexual. Yes, it’s as horrible as it sounds.

And, yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Annarbor.com brings FOIA to readers

I stumbled upon a great feature in Annarbor.com called FOIA Friday. Each week, Annarbor.com uses information gathered through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to “shed light on the activities of government.”

FOIA Friday is written like a column, with a conversational tone and lots of information.

For a good example of what FOIA Friday does, see this entry. Not only does it inform readers about the National Security Archive, but it also lists the upcoming local information that might come from pending FOIA requests.

My hat’s off to you, Advance Publications, for FOIA Friday.

The FCC is on MySpace–with censorship?

FCC MySpace Page
I stumbled across an article in The Hill about the Federal Communications Commission launching a MySpace page last week.

Not only is the MySpace page of interest, but so is a question raised by a blogger Adam Thierer at The Technology Liberation Front. Will the FCC censor the comments on its MySpace page?

The Hill writer Kim Hart found out that yes, an FCC spokesperson says it has a policy to remove comments deemed obscene or inappropriate.

If you want a look at some of the comments that were cut, check out Thierer’s blog.

My favorite comment so far, out of the 11 still remaining on the FCC’s MySpace page, is the following by someone identified as “The Ambience Project”: “Thanks for all the years of suppressing creativity and wasting our money in the process. America is a ****** ***** for it.”

So far, the friends of the FCC on the MySpace page far out number the negative comments. As of 4:20 today, the FCC had 73 friends on My Space and 11 comments (not all negative).

It just makes you wonder how many comments might be there without the policy.

Knight News Challenge winners may help students

Twitter is abuzz with the announcement of the 2009 winners of the Knight News Challenge, a project that funds news experiments with the goal of helping communities.

Some interesting ideas got funded — ideas that have the potential to help journalism teachers and students.

My favorite is DocumentCloud, a non-profit effort by the New York Times and ProPublica to offer an online place where the public can access and share documents. Very cool. Can you imagine the stories students can do if they can easily access documents? FOIA and FOIL requests are great, but even if you get what you want, they take a while. The DocumentCloud documents will be there for the taking, and hopefully inspire journalism students to add to the collection. What a great learning experience.

Other ideas funded also lend themselves to classroom use. Take Mobile Media Toolkit, an idea to make it easier for people to get the applications and tools needed to do reporting.

One of the things I like best about this is it has the potential to allow my journalism students to get excellent experience without having to spend a fortune. I teach at a state school, and we simply don’t have the resources that larger, private journalism schools do (and quite frankly, neither do most of our students). Thanks, Knight News Challenge and Knight Foundation, for an effort that could help many future journalists.

Applications for the 2010 Knight News Challenge start being accepted in September.

What are you still doing here? Get to work on that application! Journalism students everywhere need you. 🙂

Project for Excellence in Journalism site must see

If you’ve never been to the Project for Excellence in Journalism web site, you are missing a lot.thumbsup

I’m hooked on the Weekly News Coverage Index, which examines what stories get the most coverage. But there’s so much more there for journajunkies like me.

For researchers, downloadable data on close to 71,000 news stories are available. For journalists, teachers and students, a list of journalism resources. For the curious, an annual State of the News Media report.

Page after page is full of information about journalism and what gets covered. It’s a journajunkie’s dream.

Media Law Case of the Week

Before I get into the Media Law Case of the Week, I want to tip my hat to the Columbus Dispatch for its excellent stories outlining the (mis)uses of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, better known as FERPA.

They called their six-month investigation into FERPA Secrecy 101. The stories are definitely worth a read.

And now to the Media Law Case of the Week …

I try to stay away from huge cases and focus on smaller gems you may have missed. However, I cannot ignore the plight of  American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who have been sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp in North Korea.

The International Women’s Media Foundation and Reporters Without Borders have a joint petition calling for the reporters’ release.

If you want to sign the petition, click here.

Media Law Case of the Week

For three years, student journalists at Michigan State University have been fighting a legal battle to get access to police records of a campus incident that allegedly included a student covering a victim in gasoline and threatening to set the victim on fire in a dorm room.

Now an Ingham County Circuit Court judge has said the university must turn over some of the information in those police records to the student newspaper.

The Student Press Law Center has the story of how this legal battle unfolded, why it is important to student journalists who weren’t even on the newspaper staff at the time, and why it might not be over here.

Three years to get basic police records.

Keep up the good fight, student journalists.

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.