Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Freakonomics Lawsuit Settlement May Be Near

According to a story in today's Chronicle of Higher Education, John R. Lott may be ready to settle that defamation lawsuit against Freakonomics author Steven D. Levitt. Terms of the settlement would require Mr. Levitt to send a letter to John B. McCall, the recipient of the original email in which Mr. Lott alleges he was defamed. That letter would clarify Mr. Levitt's original statements, but does not provide for any payments or an actual apology. The settlement also provides that Mr. Lott can appeal a judge's dismissal of the lawsuit on choice of law grounds. Read  more here in an article by Chronicle reporter David Glenn. Here are prior posts from April 20, 2006 and June 7 of this year.

[Thanks to Mr. Glenn for alerting me to this story].

July 27, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Imus, CBS, Rumored Close to Settlement

Don Imus and CBS are rumored to be close to settling Mr. Imus' 120 million dollar lawsuit against the network for wrongful dismissal in the wake of his controversial remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team made some months ago. His $40 million contract with CBS still had years to run when he was let go. Read more here in a New York Post story.

July 27, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Daily Mirror Defends Its Journalists

The Daily Mirror defended the reporters arrested for attempting to plant a fake bomb, apparently somewhere on the Underground or on a train, in an attempt to test security, and railed at the British police for using terrorism legislation to detain the reporters, saying ""To be arrested under the Terrorism Act 2001 is more than alarming, it's completely disproportionate to the alleged crime..."Journalists should be fearing for the future of investigative journalism if journalists carrying out legitimate journalistic exercises are arrested under the Terrorism Act." Here's an article from the Media Guardian on the arrest. Here's an article by Stephen White of the Daily Mirror on the arrest and detention.

July 27, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

BBC to Treasury: Sorry

The BBC, through its News Director Helen Boaden, has apologized over the editing of a recent Newsnight piece that misrepresented now Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his staff while he was still head of the Treasury. Through the sequencing of scenes in the 12 minute report, it seems as though a Treasury press officer is objecting to the reporter shown in the piece and calling the police to question him, after an initial confrontation. In fact, the events happened in reverse order. Read more here in a Media Guardian story. Andrew Pierce of the Daily Telegraph notes that these are just the most recent BBC gaffes. Read more here.

July 27, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

BBC News Director Admits Deceptions a Concern

BBC News Director Helen Boaden told a House of Lords committee that recent revelations about deceptions involving a BBC television program have caused concern and dismay, and that the corporation itself had "suffered a blow." But she assured the committee that BBC management was dealing with the problem through staff re-training and through other measures. Read more here in a Media Guardian story.

July 27, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

First Circuit Upholds Lower Court Decision That Tape of Arrest, Warrentless Search Posted on Website Protected by First Amendment

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a political activist is likely to prevail on the merits, and is entitled to a preliminary injunction preventing the Massachusetts State Police from prosecuting her from posting a tape on her Web site showing an arrest and warrantless search.

"This case presents the question of whether the First Amendment prevents Massachusetts law enforcement officials from interfering with an individual's internet posting of an audio and video recording of an arrest and warrantless search of a private residence, when the individual who posted the recording had reason to know at the time she accepted the recording that it was illegally recorded. The appellant state police officers challenge the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining them from taking any action that interferes with appellee Mary Jean's posting of the recording on a website. We find this case materially indistinguishable from the Supreme Court's decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001), and thus conclude that Jean has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of her claim that the First Amendment protects the posting of a recording under such circumstances. Consequently, we uphold the preliminary injunction....Under 28 U.S.C. §1292(a)(1), we have jurisdiction to hear an interlocutory appeal of an order granting a preliminary injunction. We review the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction for abuse of discretion....In considering the motion for a preliminary injunction, a district court weighs four factors: (1) the plaintiff's likelihood of success on the merits; (2) the potential for irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction; (3) whether issuing an injunction will burden the defendants less than denying an injunction would burden the plaintiffs; and (4) the effect, if any, on the public interest.... The police contest only the first factor: Jean's likelihood of success on the merits. That inquiry is the most important part of the preliminary injunction assessment: “[I]f the moving party cannot demonstrate that he is likely to succeed in his quest, the remaining factors become matters of idle curiosity.”... Moreover, to the extent that the police could have argued that the other three factors assist in demonstrating abuse of discretion by the district court, they have now waived those arguments by failing to raise them on appeal. Thus, the question before us is whether the district court erred in granting a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, §99 against Jean for her receipt and internet posting of the audio/video recording of Pechonis’ arrest. Like the district court, we evaluate whether, in light of the record before us, she has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits."

...

" As a preliminary matter, we note that, like the statutes in question in Bartnicki, section 99 is a “content-neutral law of general applicability,” id. at 526. It “does not distinguish based on the content of the intercepted conversations, nor is it justified by reference to the content of those conversations.” Id. Like the delivery of the recording in Bartnicki, which the Court analogized to “the delivery of a handbill or a pamphlet,” id. at 527, section 99's prohibition against disclosure also constitutes a regulation of “pure speech.” As did the Court in Bartnicki, we consider the interests implicated by the disclosure of the information. With respect to the state's interest in protecting the privacy of its citizens, the privacy interests discussed in Bartnicki are less compelling here. Bartnicki emphasized the importance of “encouraging the uninhibited exchange of ideas and information among private parties,” id. at 532, and of avoiding the “‘[f]ear or suspicion that one's speech is being monitored by a stranger,’” id. at 533 (quoting President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society 202 (1967)). This interest in protecting private communication is clearly implicated by the interception of a private cell phone conversation in Bartnicki. However, this interest is virtually irrelevant here, where the intercepted communications involve a search by police officers of a private citizen's home in front of that individual, his wife, other members of the family, and at least eight law enforcement officers. Moreover, the state's interest in deterring illegal interception by punishing a subsequent publisher of information — already accorded little weight by the Court in Bartnicki — receives even less weight here, where the identity of the interceptor is known. In Bartnicki, the government argued that punishing a subsequent publisher of information “remov[es] an incentive for parties to intercept private conversations” by deterring would-be publishers of illegally intercepted material and thus reducing the demand for such material. Id. at 529-30 & n.17. This argument rested, in part, on the assumption that the interceptors themselves could not be punished because their identities usually were unknown. Unimpressed, the Court explained that the available evidence did not support this assumption of anonymity. First, the legislative record did not indicate that a significant number of interceptors were anonymous. Id. at 531 n.17. Moreover, fewer than ten of the 206 cases filed under § 2511 (the federal wiretap statute) involved an anonymous interceptor. Id. Thus, the Court concluded that the relatively small number of anonymous interceptors meant that it was not “difficult to identify the persons responsible for illegal interceptions” and, consequently, not “necessary to prohibit disclosure by third parties with no connection to, or responsibility for, the initial illegality,” id. Given this logic, there is a better argument for prosecuting a subsequent publisher of information when the interceptor is anonymous. In such a situation, the government is unable to punish the interceptor directly; punishing the subsequent publisher might be more justifiable as a deterrent. However, even after taking into account the anonymity of the interceptor in Bartnicki, the Court held that “[a]lthough there are some rare occasions in which a law suppressing one party's speech may be justified by an interest in deterring criminal conduct by another, this is not such a case.” Id. at 530 (citation omitted). Thus, where, as here, the identity of the interceptor is known, there is even less justification for punishing a subsequent publisher than there was in Bartnicki.

On the public interest side of the equation, the broad interest in permitting “the publication of truthful information of public concern,” described in Bartnicki, id. at 534-35, applies here as well. The police do not deny that the event depicted on the recording — a warrantless and potentially unlawful search of a private residence — is a matter of public concern. The police also concede that, like the defendants in Bartnicki, Jean played no part in the illegal interception. Thus, the only possible ground for distinguishing this case from Bartnicki is the assertion of the police that Jean, unlike the defendants in Bartnicki, did not obtain the recording lawfully. The Massachusetts interception statute prohibits “willfully commit[ting] an interception,” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, §99(C)(1), and “willfully disclos[ing] … the contents of any wire or oral communication, knowing that the information was obtained through interception,” id. §99(C)(3). It likewise forbids “permit[ting],” “participat[ing] in a conspiracy to commit,” or acting as an “accessory to a person who commits” a violation of another subsection of the statute. Id. §99(C)(6). By willfully recording his arrest and then giving the recording to Jean, Pechonis arguably would have violated both section 99(C)(1) and section 99(C)(3). Thus, the police argue, by voluntarily accepting the tape from Pechonis and then disseminating it, Jean assisted, conspired, or served as an accessory to Pechonis’ violation of section 99(C)(3) and thereby independently violated section 99(C)(6).

"Elaborating on this point, the police contend that “the disseminator's knowledge, when she obtains the tape, of the interceptor's identity and of the unlawfulness of the interception is determinative of whether she has obtained it lawfully or unlawfully for purposes of a Bartnicki analysis.” They emphasize that, in Bartnicki, the tape was placed anonymously in Yocum's mailbox, and Yocum received the tape without knowing its contents until after he played it. 532 U.S. at 519. Thus, they argue, “[t]he break in the chain between the interceptor and the defendants became the pivotal point in the Court's balancing of interests because the break meant that the defendants had not obtained the tape unlawfully.” In contrast, “Jean knowingly participated in [Pechonis’] disclosure and became the essential but-for first link in the chain.” In short, appellants insist that the “essential distinction between this case and Bartnicki” was that “[i]n Bartnicki, the interceptor had already disseminated the tape before Yocum passively received it and disseminated it further; … . In the present case, it was Jean's active collaboration with Pechonis that made his unlawful dissemination possible in the first instance.  We will assume that Jean's conduct, viewed through the prism of section 99(C)(3) and section 99(C)(6), may have been unlawful under the Massachusetts statute. She disclosed to others the contents of an oral communication that she knew had been recorded illegally, and she arguably participated with Pechonis in a conspiracy to disclose the content of the illegally recorded oral communication. However, whether Jean's conduct fell within the statute is not determinative — indeed, we note that the conduct of both Yocum and Vopper in Bartnicki would have fallen within this statute. Rather, the determinative question is whether the First Amendment, as applied by the Supreme Court in Bartnicki, permits Massachusetts to criminalize Jean's conduct. On this question, we find the arguments of the police unpersuasive.
The police note correctly that, in Bartnicki, Yocum did not realize that the tape had been recorded illegally at the time he received it in his mailbox. Yocum's knowledge of the illegality of the interception arose only later, when he listened to the tape. Although the police argue that this delay between the receipt of the tape and the recognition of its illegality caused a critical break in the chain, the Supreme Court attached no significance to Yocum's receipt of the tape without knowledge of its contents. If the disconnect in time between the receipt of the tape and the later recognition that the tape had been recorded illegally was critical to the premise that Yocum had obtained the tape lawfully, the Court would have distinguished between Yocum and Vopper, who received the tape directly from Yocum and thus knew the tape had been recorded illegally at the time that he received it.... Like Vopper, Jean already had reason to know that the tape was illegally intercepted at the time that she received it; consequently, the Court's conclusion that Vopper obtained the tape lawfully applies equally to Jean.
The police still insist on a distinction between Jean and the defendants in Bartnicki because Jean's “active collaboration” with Pechonis as the essential “first link” in the chain of dissemination distinguishes this case from Bartnicki. They contend that Jean “had the opportunity to prevent the dissemination” and that “no one farther down the chain would have the same opportunity.” We also find this distinction unpersuasive. Critically, in Bartnicki, Yocum had the opportunity to prevent further disclosure. Although he did not know the tape was illegally intercepted when he received it, he had that knowledge at the time he disclosed the tape to the school board and Vopper. Thus, both Yocum and Jean could have prevented further dissemination by refusing to disclose the tape. In light of this similarity, the fact that Yocum received the tape “passively” and Jean received the tape “actively” is a distinction without a difference: both made the decision to proceed with their disclosures knowing that the tape was illegally intercepted, yet the Supreme Court held in Bartnicki that such a knowing disclosure is protected by the First Amendment.
...

"We conclude that the government interests in preserving privacy and deterring illegal interceptions are less compelling in this case than in Bartnicki, and Jean's circumstances are otherwise materially indistinguishable from those of the defendants in Bartnicki, whose publication of an illegally intercepted tape was protected by the First Amendment. Jean's publication of the recording on her website is thus entitled to the same First Amendment protection. Consequently, we agree with the district court that Jean has a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of her suit for a permanent injunction. The district court's decision to grant Jean's request for a preliminary injunction is affirmed."

Read the entire opinion here.

July 26, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Two Reporters Arrested After Trying To Plant Fake Explosive Device

Alert railway staff notified British Transport Police about two individuals whom they thought looked suspicious. The two men turned out to be two reporters working for the Daily Mirror, whom the police arrested for attempting to plant a fake bomb. The two said they were trying to test security measures. Read more here in a Media Guardian story.

July 25, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Advertising Standards Authority Cites L'Oreal For Deceptive Penelope Cruz Ad

The British watchdog agency Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has cited L'Oreal for its current makeup campaign which features celebrity Penelope Cruz. The ad features Ms. Cruz using mascara that seems to extend her eyelashes far beyond what might be achieved with the product; L'Oreal conceded that the actress used false eyelashes to augment her natural eyelashes and then applied the mascara to both. The ASA told the company to include a disclaimer in future. Read more here. Read the ASA's ruling here.

July 25, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

NBC Sued Over "To Catch a Predator" Suicide

The sister of a man who shot himself after being involved in the NBC "To Catch a Predator" telecasts has sued the network in federal court, saying the event was "reasonably foreseeable". The man, Louis "Bill" Conradt, Jr., was an assistant county prosecutor in Texas. NBC says that although it has not yet seen a copy of the court papers, it plans to defend itself "vigorously." Read more here in a Washington Post story. Note that a former producer for the show has also sued, claiming that it "violated numerous journalistic ethical standards." See this Smoking Gun story.

July 24, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Senatorial Response to Appellate Court Ruling on Fleeting Expletives

Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has introduced the Protecting Children from Indecent Programming Act, in response to the recent decision by the Second Circuit, which struck down the FCC's new policy with regard to "fleeting expletives." Here's the text of the bill, which has emerged from the Senate Committee on Commerce.

July 24, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sirius Radio and XM Offering A La Carte Plans to Subscribers

In a move apparently intended to persuade federal regulators that their merger is in the public interest, Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio have decided to allow their customers to select channels according to an "a la carte" scheme. Under one plan, customers could obtain certain premium channels for about $15 per month. Under the other, they could receive some non-premium channels for about $7 a month, paying twenty-five cents for each additional channel they wanted to receive. They would have to purchase new equipment to qualify for either of these plans. Some FCC Commissioners have championed a la carte pricing in the cable context. Read more here in a New York Times article published today (subscription may be required).

July 24, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 23, 2007

South Africa and the Rights of the Media

Robert Jacob Danay, Department of Justice, Canada, and Jacob Foster, Supreme Court of Appeals, have published "The Sins of the Media: The SABC Decision and the Erosion of Free Press RIghts," in volume 22 of the South African Journal on Human Rights at p. 563. Here is the abstract.

In South African Broadcasting Corporation Ltd v National Director of Public Prosecutions, the Constitutional Court of South Africa dismissed an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) denying the national public broadcaster the opportunity to record and broadcast proceedings of a five-day criminal appeal. The majority of the Court held that the SCA's exercise of discretion (including the formulation of a legal test) could only be interfered with if it was a "demonstrable blunder." Not only did the majority fail to appreciate that, for sound constitutional reasons, no deference ought to be due to the SCA's decision, it granted more than the usual deference by making use of the novel "demonstrable blunder" standard. Though some of the possible reasons underlying the majority's use of this new form of appellate review (including a fear that full media access might trivialise the court processes) may have been understandable, such reasons were either legally irrelevant or untenable. The SABC decision is part of a trend whereby the courts and the legislature, often dismayed by incidents of apparent unprofessional conduct by the media, have progressively eroded the constitutional right to a free press. This disquieting trend is based on a misunderstanding of the role of a free press in a constitutional democracy and could ultimately serve to exacerbate any lack of adequate press coverage of the government and the judiciary. Nevertheless, a proper understanding of the "open justice principle," recognised by the Constitutional Court in SABC as a constitutional imperative, represents a potential solution to the observed diminution of free press rights.

Download the entire article from SSRN here.

July 23, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Conrad Black Ordered to Remain in U.S., Not Jailed

U. S. District Judge Amy St. Eve denied prosecution requests to jail former media mogul Conrad Black immediately after a jury found him guilty on multiple counts of fraud, but ordered him to remain in the United States pending sentencing. The prosecution raised concerns that Mr. Black, originally from Canada, might cross the border and then fight extradition. Read more here in a Media Guardian story.

July 23, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)