Saturday, April 5, 2008
Several Bush administration officials, including the Attorney General, are coming out in opposition to the "Free Flow of Information Act" (the federal reporter shield bill), sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania). They allege that the bill's definition of "journalist" is overinclusive, and might allow bloggers to claim the reporter's privilege, and might even allow terrorists to shield themselves, thus compromising the war on terrorism. Other Bush administration officials opposing passage of the bill include National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell. Read more here.
Friday, April 4, 2008
The feud between actress Kathleen Turner and former co-star Nicolas Cage appears to be over. Ms. Turner has apologized to Mr. Cage over statements in her newly published autobiography Send Yourself Roses that implied he was arrested for drunk driving and that he made off with a Chihuahua. Mr. Cage sued in an English court because excerpts from Ms. Turner's book appeared in the Daily Mail and on the Daily Mail website. Ms. Turner will also make a donation to a charity, the statements will disappear from the Daily Mail's website, and Ms. Turner's publishers will make appropriate changes to the book to reflect the retraction. Read more here in a story from the BBC.
Filmmaker Errol Morris takes on the question of when a documentary is not a documentary, in part one of an essay in today's New York Times. When does playing it again, Sam, seem as if it's playing it for the first time? Begins Mr. Morris,
“So, how is it that you managed to be on the roadway that night?” The question was posed by a reporter from the Dallas Morning News. This was in 1988, during an interview about my recently released film, “The Thin Blue Line.” I had decided for the first time as a documentary filmmaker to use slow-motion re-enactments in my account of the wrongful conviction of Randall Dale Adams for the murder of Dallas Police Officer Robert Wood.
The question seemed insane. The film was released in 1988. The crime occurred in 1976. Was this reporter suggesting that I had been out on the roadway with a 35-millimeter film crew the night of the murder, and just happened to be at the right place, at the right time to film the crime – over a decade earlier? Indeed, he was.
Just so there is no doubt about this: I wasn’t there.
He continues, discusses objections to the use of re-enactments which stress that re-enactments are "untrue", that they suggest or substitute a reality for the viewer, which the viewer then adopts, in a way that s/he would never do with a fictionalized film.
Critics argue that the use of re-enactments suggest a callous disregard on the part of a filmmaker for what is true. I don’t agree. Some re-enactments serve the truth, others subvert it. There is no mode of expression, no technique of production that will instantly produce truth or falsehood. There is no veritas lens – no lens that provides a “truthful” picture of events. There is cinema vérité and kino pravda but no cinematic truth.
The engine of uncovering truth is not some special lens or even the unadorned human eye; it is unadorned human reason. It wasn’t a cinema vérité documentary that got Randall Dale Adams out of prison. It was film that re-enacted important details of the crime. It was an investigation – part of which was done with a camera. The re-enactments capture the important details of that investigation. It’s not re-enactments per se that are wrong or inappropriate. It’s the use of them. I use re-enactments to burrow underneath the surface of reality in an attempt to uncover some hidden truth.
But what about the reporter who thought I had been out on the roadway? Maybe I could have been there – by pure happenstance – 10 years before I started work on the film, out there on the roadway with a film crew. Unlikely, but possible. I wasn’t, but that isn’t the point. Is the problem that we have an unfettered capacity for credulity, for false belief, and hence, we feel the need to protect ourselves from ourselves? If seeing is believing, then we better be damn careful about what we show people, including ourselves – because, regardless of what it is – we are likely to uncritically believe it.
Mr. Morris has a great deal to say about the importance of narrative. Here's a link to part one of Mr. Morris's essay, which is a provocative look at how a major filmmaker sees his craft. And it even has footnotes!
Following up on a post from last year, I note that Gentoo, which used to be the Sunderland Housing Group, has won a record 100,000 pounds damage award in an action over statements published by a website called DadsPlace after the site repeatedly published defamatory statements about the company. A rival corporation was thought to be behind the statements, and although its head maintained almost until the end that he and his firm were uninvolved, he finally agreed to pay the 100,000 pounds as well as legal costs. The case took three years to come to this conclusion. The website was shut down in 2006. Read more here in an article in the Guardian. Here's more coverage from the BBC and from the Telegraph.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
British Watchdog Agency Reports That Young Persons Are Using Social Networking Sites Not Meant For Them
Ofcom reports that children and young persons are using adult social networking sites, sometimes without supervision, which may put them at risk. Said one Ofcom spokesperson, "There are huge benefits to internet use, and we don't want to be too scared about the dangers....[b]ut parents who are allowing their children to go online without supervision need to recognise their children are potentially at risk." The findings echo the content of the Byron report, released last week. Read more here.
The ruling in the death of TV host Natasha Collins is "death by misadventure" as a result of a drug overdose. Her fiance Mark Speight, also a television host, was investigated after Ms. Collins was found dead in the couple's London apartment. Read more here.
Resumes and work histories of the staff at the Berliner Zeitung, formerly a leading East Berlin newspaper, will be scrutinized following revelations that at least two leading journalists there were informants for the Stasi, the East German secret police. One of the journalists has been identified as Thomas Leinkauf; the other's name has not yet been released. The paper's management indicated that it thought it had rid itself of Stasi informants some time ago. Here's more from the BBC and Deutsche Welle.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Drink Up: Magistrate Judge Rules That Virginia May Not Limit College Newspaper Ads Referring To Alcohol
A magistrate judge has ruled that two Virginia administrative code provisions limiting or banning the language pertaining to alcohol ads in college newspapers violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper at Virginia Tech, assisted by the ACLU, had challenged the enforcement of the provisions, which regulated such phrases as the use of the term "Happy Hour" (prohibited) and use of the term "Polynesian Drinks" (permitted in certain cases). After finding that the plaintiffs had standing to bring the suit, Judge Hannah Lauck applied the Central Hudson test to find that the provisions of the VAC could not stand up to the protections of the First Amendment. Read the entire opinion here. Here's more on the background of the suit from the Collegiate Times. Here's a link to a related case from the Third Circuit, Pitt News v. Pappert, in which now Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion.
NBC has announced a new system for organizing its weeknight prime time viewing. At eight it will show "family hour" programming. Nine p.m. ushers in "blockbuster" shows, and at ten the network will show "adult theme" programs. Here's more about the upcoming season.
Geert Wilders, a Dutch Member of Parliament whose movie "Fitna" criticizes the Koran, has agreed to remove the cartoon created by Danish artist Kurt Westergaard which sparked protests and violence when it first appeared in newspapers several years ago. Mr. Westergaard said he believed a copyright infringement lawsuit would be abandoned. The film, however, has already been distributed and seen, and has caused great comment. Boycotts of Dutch products are being urged in several countries. Meanwhile, Mr. Wilders still faces a lawsuit from the Dutch Islamic Federation over the film, and Pakistan blocked access to the trailer for the film via YouTube temporarily earlier this year.
Just as everyone gets those tax returns in, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) are set to begin talks on a new contract beginning April 15. The rush to begin negotiations is fueled by AMPTP's separate dealings with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). The two unions had originally planned to bargain with AMPTP together but over the weekend that deal, which had lasted more than two decades, fell apart.
Read more here from the Hollywood Reporter.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has granted the defendant's motion to dismiss in the case of Diaz v. NBC Universal (the "American Gangster" case), a class action case in which the plaintiffs alleged that "the three named plaintiffs and every New York City-based DEA agent during that 12 year period were defamed by an allegedly false legend that appears on screen at the end of the film. The legend says that Frank Lucas’ `collaboration [with law enforcement] led to the conviction of three quarters of New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency.'" The plaintiffs sued for "libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress" and requested an injunction until the allegedly false and defamatory legend that appeared at the end of the film was removed.
The Court notes that the plaintiffs present only one defamatory statement: "stating that Lucas’ cooperation with authorities after his arrest `led to the conviction of three quarters of New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency.'" This statement illustrates the problem: the plaintiffs cannot meet the "of and concerning" requirement for the defamation claim.
Nonetheless, plaintiffs allege that each of them can be identified by an average viewer because the film depicts as corrupt virtually the entire New York City narcotics law enforcement community. Therefore, plaintiffs argue that the legend need not reference the plaintiffs by name. Plaintiffs rely on Brady v. Ottaway Newsparers, Inc....In Brady, the court permitted a group of 53 unindicted police officers to pursue a libel claim based upon a newspaper publication that stated that their “entire [police] department was under a cloud” because of the indictment of some of them. In this case, however, the legend did not cast a cloud over the entire (non-existent) “New York City DEA;” it said that a fraction (albeit a substantial fraction) of the members of that group were convicted....Thus, even assuming arguendo that the legend concerned the plaintiff group, plaintiffs’ libel claim would still be barred. At a minimum, plaintiffs argue that the claims of the nine DEA agents who took part in the search of Lucas’ home should be permitted to go forward, because (1) that subset of the entire group is small enough to fall within the exception to the group libel doctrine, and (2) the searching officers in the Film engage in particularly despicable conduct that never happened. To support their position, plaintiffs argue that the article on which the Film is based, “Return of the Superfly,” by Mark Jacobson, contains a contention by Lucas that Agent Korniloff and his DEA colleagues took nine or ten million dollars from him during this search. During the search scene in the film, a character portraying a corrupt NYPD officer tells Lucas’ wife that the, “Feds are going to come in and take everything, take it all, but not before I get my gratuity.” (He then steals money.) Plaintiffs contend that these statements allegedly defame “the Feds” (i.e., the DEA), and so need not reference these plaintiffs by name, since an average viewer who was aware that DEA searched the house would view these DEA agents as having stolen nine or ten million dollars (“take[n] it all”). The same viewer would then assume that DEA agents were later convicted for these crimes. The first thing to note is that the Complaint does not mention the Jacobson article, so it is of no moment what it does or does not say. Moreover, it would be improper to “bootstrap” an erroneous statement in the Jacobson article onto the movie (which does not track the article), and then to find that the movie (not the article) libels Korniloff and his companions. In the film, the nine DEA agents who participated in the search are not identifiable. The film never names the DEA agents who searched Lucas’ home....Nor does the film mention that DEA agents (or anyone else) stole “nine or ten million dollars” from Lucas’ home. The movie does not show a single person who is identifiable as a DEA agent. The person who steals the money is an NYPD officer. (In fact, the line quoted by plaintiffs could just as easily mean that the “Feds” would seize “all” of Lucas’ money legally, and that the corrupt NYPD officer wanted to get his “gratuity” before the “Feds” got there.) A viewer must go beyond the movie (i.e., have read the Jacobson article) to know that Lucas alleged the theft of a much greater sum by the DEA agents (“Feds”) who searched his house. Korniloff may have been libeled by Lucas’ statement in the “Superfly” article (as to which the statute of limitations has long run). However, he and the eight other DEA agents were not libeled by the legend that appears onscreen at the end of American Gangster. The cause of action for libel is dismissed as barred by the group libel doctrine. I need not reach defendant's alternative argument that no reasonable person could interpret the legend as referring to federal DEA agents, rather than New York City police officers.
Former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks is now free to speak with members of the media about his experiences since a gag order has expired, but he's apparently not particularly interested in doing so, says his father. Mr. Hicks has completed a prison sentence and is now out on parole, and might be free of all restrictions at the end of this year. Read more here in an article from the Australian paper The Age.
The British Prime Minister wants to abandon plans to criminalize the act of purchasing personal data by the media and suspicion is rife that he's being pressured by that very media. A bill providing for just such criminalization was marching along through Parliament, having made it through most of both Houses. But Gordon Brown is reported to be worried about the effect that such a bill, if passed, would have on the pursuit of legitimate stories. One media representative also said, "`If the legislation were to proceed, Britain would be virtually the only civilised country in the world where journalists and editors could be jailed for doing their job. These views have made known to the prime minister and the minister of justice by senior industry figures.'"
Read more here in a story from the Guardian.
An unnamed British paper is offering to pay gamers for personal stories about how video games lead to crime. Questions are swirling about this offer, since it's so mysterious, and since the British are currently evaluating the effects of online gaming and Internet use on children.
Actor and director Woody Allen ("Crimes and Misdemeanors", "Bananas", "Take the Money and Run") is suing American Apparel for misappropriation for using an image from his film "Annie Hall" on a billboard to sell its products. Mr. Allen says the use of the image featuring him in Hasidic garb to sell American Apparel is particularly offensive since the company is known for its "provocative photography" and the use of the image implies that Mr. Allen endorsed the company's products. See here for a reproduction of the offending billboard and more on the story from the Wall Street Journal.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Dith Pran, the Cambodian photographer who with New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg documented the story of life under the Khmer Rouge, has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 65. Mr. Pran eventually escaped Cambodia and came to the US to join his family; he worked for the Times as a photographer. Read more here. Mr. Pran's life and work inspired the film The Killing Fields, which won three Academy Awards, including one for Haing S. Ngor, who played him in the movie. Tragically, Dr. Ngor was murdered in 1996, during a robbery at his home.