January 11, 2008
Patarkatsishvili Charged With Conspiracy
Georgian prosecutors are pursuing several charges, including "conspiracy to overthrow the government", against Badri Patarkatsishvili, the co-owner of Imedi TV. Mr. Patarkatshishvili challenged the current President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, for the post, in last year's election, when Mr. Saakashvili ran for re-election, but won less than ten percent of the vote. He now lives abroad. Read more here.
French Court Refuses to Ban Book on Cecilia Sarkozy
A French court has refused to grant Cecilia Sarkozy's request to prevent publication of a book by Anna Britton about her called Cecilia. The former wife of France's President objects to some of the comments attributed to her in the publication. The judge in the case noted that excerpts from the book had already appeared in magazines and that the book had already hit bookstores. Ms. Sarkozy's attorney plans to appeal. Read more here and here.
January 10, 2008
Golf Channel Suspends Anchor For "Poorly Chosen Remarks"
The Golf Channel has decided to suspend anchor Kelly Tilghman after her ill-chosen words concerning up and coming young golfers who might want to take on champion Tiger Woods. Reaction was swift from many, and from Golf Channel management, which said she would be off the air for two weeks following her remark. Here is the statement from the Golf Channel announcing the suspension.
The GOLF CHANNEL regrets the poorly chosen remarks made by Kelly Tilghman on a recent broadcast and, again, extends our apologies to anyone who was offended.
There is simply no place on our network for offensive language like this.
While we believe that Kelly's choice of words were inadvertent and that she did not intend them in an offensive manner, the words were hurtful and grossly inappropriate.
Consequently, we have decided to suspend Kelly for two weeks, effective immediately.
Case Ends Against British Official Who Leaked Documents Dealing With Rendition
The British government has dropped the case against Derek Pasquill, accused under the Official Secrets Act of leaking information to the press concerning the US practice of rendition, after a nearly two year investigation. The government bore the burden of proving that the leak had caused damage to the country's national security, which was becoming increasingly difficult to demonstrate. Mr. Pasquill had been suspended with pay during the investigation. Sources said that a number of current officials would probably have been called to testify for the defense. Mr. Pasquill continues to defend his decision to release the information, saying, ""I realised that is a dangerous way to proceed, but this was an issue which was obviously of public interest given the circumstances we are in at the moment in the UK and the world." Here's more from the Guardian, and more from the New Statesman.
An Additional Post Regarding Sparks v. Reneau Publishing
Mr. Dennis Sparks sent me an email yesterday about the post U. S. District Court Holds That City Manager, As Public Official, Must Show Actual Malice in Defamation Suit Against Newspaper. In it he says I left out a "critical fact" concerning the case, namely that the Mayor contacted him to set a date and time for Mr. Sparks' return, and he and the Mayor agreed that he, Mr. Sparks, would return to the city on a date and at a time certain. Mr. Sparks requested that I make mention of this on Media Law Prof blog. As far as I can tell, the court makes no mention of this "critical fact" in the opinion on which I reported in the post, but in the interests of completeness I am complying with Mr. Sparks' request.
See Sparks v. Reneau Publishing, 245 F. R. D. 583, 35 Media L. Rep. 2185 (E. D. Tex., August 2, 2007).
January 9, 2008
Comcast On FCC Agenda
The New York Times reports that the Federal Communications Commission will take up complaints that Comcast is interfering with file sharing. The AP ran a story yesterday reporting that several consumer organizations have objected that the company interferes with subscriber usage.
January 8, 2008
Truthiness? He Can't Handle Truthiness!
I checked several sites to see if this story is true. Apparently it is. Tough guy Chuck Norris is suing publisher Penguin and author Ian Spector for unjust enrichment, trademark infringement, and misappropriation over Mr. Spector's parody The Truth About Chuck Norris: 400 facts about the World's Greatest Human and two websites, including chucknorrisfacts.com. The "facts" have been around since 2005. Read more here in a Reuters article.
Georgia Appellate Court: Summary Judgment Appropriate in Defamation Lawsuit Against Savannah Paper
The Georgia Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court decision granting summary judgment in favor of the Savannah Morning News (Morris Publishing Group), which had been sued for defamation by William Torrance. Mr. Torrance alleged that in a series of articles published in the paper, the defendants had defamed him by printing that "(1) by stating that he was “let go” as city manager of Eastman, Georgia; (2) by reporting allegations that he was involved in drug use while in Eastman; (3) by implying that he was responsible for the death of Henry Dickerson, the man found dead in the city attorney's pool; (4) by reporting that he was involved in the wiretapping of a GBI agent's telephone calls and subsequent efforts to remove her from the Dickerson investigation; (5) by reporting various statements concerning the Dickerson investigation that placed Torrance in a false light; and (6) by reporting that Torrance's daughter's window was nailed shut...".
According to the appellate court, "The trial court entered a very comprehensive order dealing with many issues, including venue, Torrance's status as a public official, actual malice, and a point-by-point analysis of the allegedly defamatory statements. In his sole enumeration of error, Torrance contends the trial court erred in granting the newspaper defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The focus of Torrance's appeal is on the content of the statements and the question of actual malice; he acknowledges that he is not appealing the determination that he was a public figure at the time of the statements."
Because the standard is one of actual malice, the plaintiff had an extremely high standard to meet. "Torrance cannot show actual malice merely by making assertions contrary to those of the identified sources from which the newspaper defendants obtained their information. “[T]he press need not accept denials, however vehement; such denials are so commonplace in the world of polemical charge and countercharge that, in themselves, they hardly alert the conscientious reporter to the likelihood of error....Moreover, the newspaper defendants did not conceal this information, but published Torrance's denials and other contradictory evidence in the articles themselves. This is in contrast to such decisions as Lake Park Post, Inc. v. Farmer, 264 Ga. App. 299, (2) (590 SE2d 254)...in which we found actual malice because the defendants not only failed to investigate but also refused to print any contradictory evidence regarding the event reported in their news articles, although all other evidence contradicted their version, including eyewitnesses, multiple official reports, and a police patrol car video. See also Harte-Hanks, supra, 491 U.S. at 692 (refusal to listen to conclusive tape recording despite multiple witnesses’ denials of reporter's version of events showed “purposeful avoidance of the truth” and evidence of actual malice.) Here, while Torrance argues that malice is shown because the series “presented a distorted interpretation” of the facts, errors of fact caused by negligence or by adoption of one of a number of possible interpretations do not show actual malice....Even a total failure to investigate does not establish bad faith, and failure to investigate fully or to the degree desired by the plaintiff “does not evince actionable reckless disregard.” Brewer v. Rogers, 211 Ga. App. 343, 348 (2) (c) (439 SE2d 77)...And “unsupported inferences or conjecture regarding a defendant's motivation do not suffice to show malice.”
Finally, Torrance contends that a jury issue was created with respect to actual malice because Torrance testified at his deposition that one of the reporters was “hostile and agitated” while interviewing him and told him that he ought to be in prison. As the trial court noted, three witnesses contradicted Torrance's account of this interview. But, as the trial court also observed, even if we assume Torrance's assertion to be true, as we must on summary judgment, “‘[a]ctual malice’ in a constitutional sense is not mere spite or ill will; it must be actual knowledge that a statement is false or reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity. [Cit.]” Sparks v. Peaster, 260 Ga. App. 232, 237 (2) (581 SE2d 579) (2003). “[I]mposing liability on the basis of the defendant's hatred, spite, ill will, or desire to injure is clearly impermissible.” (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Bollea v. World Championship Wrestling, 271 Ga. App. 555, 558 (1) (610 SE2d 92)...Under these circumstances, Torrance has failed to meet his heavy burden to show actual knowledge or reckless disregard of truth or falsity, and the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of the newspaper defendants."
The case is Torrance v. Morris Publishing Group, 2007 WL 4277847 (Ga.App.), 36 Med. L. Rptr 1033 (2007).
A Fresh Look at the Journalist's Privilege
Eric Freedman, Hofstra University School of Law, has published "Reconstructing Journalists' Privilege," forthcoming in the Cardozo Law Review. Here is the abstract.
In the years since Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972), judicial protection of journalists' confidential sources has depended upon the case-by-case application of a three-part balancing test.
This qualified privilege approach is unsound in theory and unworkable in practice. Achieving the ultimate goal of enriching public dialogue requires an absolute privilege. This article (part of a symposium issue whose scheduled contributors include Anthony Lewis, Max Frankel, Victor A. Kovner, Joel M. Gora, and Rodney A. Smolla) supports that position with multiple lines of argument that include consideration of the lawyer-client analogy and build upon developments in law, history, journalism and public affairs in the years since Branzburg.
It argues that advocates for a federal shield statute who compromise this core principle in the interests of practicality are likely to do more harm than good. It urges them to return to the position in a favor of an absolute privilege that was taken by the press amici (but not parties) in Branzburg and by the media before Congress at the time.
All public and private mechanisms of accountability depend for their effectiveness upon the availability of information. Those who utilize such mechanisms - including law-makers, business executives who need to know about malfeasance in their organizations sooner rather than later, environmental and consumer advocates, and, yes, prosecutors - should be brought into the coalition of shield law supporters so that the journalistic privilege overcomes its current image as simply a legislative break for a favored industry and the issue is re-placed where it rightly belongs: on the pedestal of public empowerment.
Download the entire article from SSRN here.
January 7, 2008
Scientologists, Tom Cruise's Lawyer Object to New Bio of Star
Members of the Church of Scientology and Tom Cruise's attorney Bert Fields are objecting to the new Andrew Morton biography of the actor, Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography, saying that suggestions that Mr. Cruise is "number two" in the Church hierarchy, and that his daughter Suri might be the result of artificial insemination via sperm from the late L. Ron Hubbard are completely ridiculous. Lawyers for the Church are said to be planning a defamation suit. The book, published by St. Martin's Press in the U.S., is due for publication January 15, and has already hit the best seller list on Amazon.com. It will not be available in the U.K. due to libel concerns. Read more here.