Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

ABC Pulls Plug on "Welcome to the Neighborhood"

Variety is reporting that ABC has decided not to air its new reality show "Welcome to the Neighborhood", a summer replacement for the popular series "Desperate Housewives." The series was supposed to make its debut July 10 in "Housewives"' regular Sunday night timeslot, but opposition from groups, some of which hadn't seen all the episodes caused the network to rethink its support of the controversial show, which featured a competition among people "in different social classes and ethnic groups" vying for a house in "a white, upper-middle class Texas community." Some groups thought the show violated fair housing laws. Others criticized what they saw as unfair portrayals of residents of the community as bigoted and unwelcoming. The show is not featured on ABC's website. It is not clear what if anything ABC plans to substitute for "Welcome to the Neighborhood."

Read Variety's story here. (subscription may be required).

June 30, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

National Academy of Sciences Publishes Paper on Vulnerability of Milk Supply After Considering Objections from HHS, Others

Two Stanford scientists have published a paper discussing the vulnerability of the nation's milk supply even though officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and others raised concerns about whether their work offered too many suggestions to terrorists about how to attack the health and safety of U. S. citizens and residents. The scientists met with officials, discussed their concerns, but went ahead with the publication, saying that the background information is already generally available.

Download the NAS paper here. Also available is an editorial by NAS President Bruce Alberts explaining the timeline of the original embargo, the guidelines followed in considering whether to proceed with publication, and emphasizing the importance of balancing heightened national security against continued scientific openess and debate.

June 29, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

German Critics Protest WOTW Review Embargo

German film critics are protesting Paramount Pictures' embargo on reviews of War of the Worlds, the new Spielberg/Cruise blockbuster. While Paramount has traditionally maintained review embargoes on upcoming releases, the policy has been extended in the case of WOTW: the studio asked critics to sign a waiver stating that they would not publish reviews until the film had been released in their countries. Critics in other countries have seemed to go along. However, angry German reviewers stated the policy violates their constitutional rights and say they will continue to resist such embargoes. U. S. critics traditionally tend to go along with such a policy. Note that both Variety and Hollywood Reporter have already released reviews. See here and here.

See coverage of the German reaction here. See the Paramount website for WOTW and release dates here. (Note: it comes with sound effects).

June 28, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Former Sacramento Bee Journalist's Stories Under Investigation

Various outlets are reporting that stories turned in over a twelve year period by former Sacramento Bee journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Diana Griego Erwin have been investigated by executive editor Rick Rodriguez and his staff. Rodriguez said Sunday the paper could not verify that more than 40 sources Griego Erwin quoted actually existed.

According to the Bee's own story, published on Sunday, June 26, among the things that were unusual about Griego Erwin's pieces was that the people she wrote about had such singular names or identifying characteristics that they should have been easy to find. One was "Victor Budriyev", but no such person appeared to live in the U.S. according to a Google search. A retired teacher named Margaret Brown did not show up in the state's list of retired teachers. Shortly before she left the paper in May, Griego Erwin was asked to provide contact information for four of her sources.The paper was unable to verify the existence of the individuals she named. Alarmed, the staff continued its inquiry, resulting in the report published on the 26th.

Read the Sacramento Bee's story, and Rick Rodriguez's letter to readers, here (registration required). Read an interview with Griego Erwin here.

Read the Washington Post's story here. An Editor & Publisher story dated May 12, 2005 covered Griego Erwin's departure and the original announcement concerning the Bee's investigation. Read it here.

June 28, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Supreme Court Decides National Cable v. Brand X

In a 6-3 decision the Supreme Court has ruled that cable providers do not have to allow ISPs to use their services. The Court found that the FCC acted within its discretion in deciding to classify "high speed Internet connections" as non-telephonic. "... if the Act fails unambiguously to classify non-facilities-based information-service providers that use telecommunications inputs to provide an information service as "offer[ors]" of "telecommunications," then it also fails unambiguously to classify facilities-based information-service providers as telecommunications-service offerors; the relevant definitions do not distinguish facilities-based and non-facilities-based carriers. That silence suggests, instead, that the Commission has the discretion to fill the consequent statutory gap."

The case, National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X,  is available here.

June 27, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Supreme Court Denies Cert in Miller/Cooper Cases

The Supreme Court has denied cert in the Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper cases. See CNN coverage here.  Miller, a New York Times reporter, and Cooper, who works for Time magazine, now face sentences of up to 18 months in jail for refusing to divulge the name of sources to a federal grand jury. The two journalists had variously claimed that the First Amendment, the federal common law and state shield laws supported their right to protect the names of their informants but the lower courts had held against them.

June 27, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Seventh Circuit Decides Hosty: Finds Against Student Journalists

In a 7-4 decision, the majority opinion written by Judge Easterbrook, the 7th Circuit  has found in favor of appellant Patricia Carter and Governors State University, and against the student journalists who objected when, in 2001, Dean Carter told the student newspaper's printer to hold any issues she had not okayed in advance. The students objected that her actions violated their right to free speech and sued both her and the university.

With Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier as its starting point, the 7th Circuit first tried to establish whether the university had intended to establish a public forum. After much discussion of the question, the court finally summed up the issue thus: "Because the district court acted on a motion for summary judgment, it assumed (as do we) that plaintiffs' perspective is the correct one. On that understanding, the Board established the Innovator in a designated public forum, where the editors were empowered to make their own decisions, wise or foolish, without fear that the administration would stop the presses."

However, the court goes on to emphasize that Dean Carter may not have known that the newspaper "operated in such a forum" and if it were reasonable for her not to have known, then she could claim qualified immunity from personal liability from  her actions in shutting down the paper until she could examine its contents. "One might well say as a `broad general proposition' something like `public officials may not censor speech in a designated public forum,' but whether Dean Carter was bound to know that the Innovator operated in such a forum is a different question altogether. The district court held that any reasonable college administrator should have know that (a) the approach of Hazelwood does not apply to colleges; and (b) only speech that is part of the curriculum is subject to supervision. We have held that neither of these propositions is correct--that Hazelwood's framework is generally applicable and depends in large measure on the operation of public-forum analysis rather than the distinction between curricular and extra-curricular activities."

Read the decision here.

The students plan to appeal. Read their reactions here. Read other reactions here and and an Associated Press story here.

June 24, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

New York's Highest Court Decides Against Court TV in Cameras in the Courtroom Case

In 2001 Court TV filed a lawsuit against Robert Morgenthau, then DA of New York County and against the State of New York to test whether section 52 of the Civil Rights Law banning cameras in the courtroom was constitutional. In July of 2003 the lower court issued a ruling finding that "the Court declines to establish a constitutional rule in New York granting the media a right to televise court proceedings. The record in consistent with the traditional approach of New York courts to public access questions...The record also is consistent with New York's statutory scheme which guarantees public trials, but gives primacy to fair trial rights. Moreover, to the extent any chamges to the statutory scheme have been put into experimental use, these were intitiated and reviewed by the Legislature."

Court TV argued to the New York State Court of Appeals that the First Amendment gives the press and the public "a right of access to trial proceedings" and that cameras are a commonplace extension of this right. The appellate court rejected this argument, as it also rejected the network's constitutional argument based on the New York state constitution. In both cases, the appellate court found that the press's right to attend trials is no greater than that of the general public. Should the legislature choose to extend coverage of trials via cameras, said the court, it certainly has that power.

Read a News Media Update piece here.

Read the decision of the court here.

June 24, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

New Media Law Related Material Out on DVD, Video

Some new DVDs and videos out for leisurely summer viewing include the re-release of Otto Preminger's classic film noir Laura. Based on the Vera Caspary novel, this atmospheric tale takes us into previously uncharted territory. What happens when the man responsible for investigating a crime falls in love with the victim (Gene Tierney)? When the victim thought to be dead turns up alive? When she is then suspected of the crime? When the newspaper critic in love with her plans to use his column to turn public opinion against the prosecutor and the police in order to secure her acquittal, in the way he has previously used public opinion against her lovers, men he thought were his rivals? The film raises some background questions about the power of the press, but its focus is always on Laura and the men in her life, manly Detective McPherson (Dana Andrews), urbane Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and weird Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). The DVD offers two priceless extras: wonderful biographies of the beautiful and tragic Gene Tierney and of the cultured Vincent Price, whom many moviegoers have tended to underestimate, both as an actor and as an art critic and writer. The DVD also includes extended commentary by composer David Raksin and film critic Jeanne Basinger, and an extended version of the film that includes a previously omitted scene. List price is $14.98.

James Carville, Mary Matalin, and colleagues made 10 episodes of the improvisational K Street that aired on HBO; the complete series is now available on DVD for a list price of $24.98. This truly odd experiment in television directed by Steven Soderbergh features a look at the workings of lobbyists in their natural habitat brought to you by people who should know. At times the folks who made the story became the story, as when then Presidential candidate Howard Dean uses a line James Carville gives him during an episode for an actual debate. Pay some attention to the people behind the curtain and enjoy this little adventure.

June 23, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

BBC Journalists Get New Ethics Code

Owen Gibson reports in The Media Guardian that BBC reporters will soon be subject to a newly updated ethics code, which will emphasize "accuracy over speed". Other changes will include a time delay for live feeds. Read his story here. When I locate the new code, I'll post it for perusal.

June 23, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

US News Rankings Are Out for 2006

The U. S. News & World Report rankings for "America's Best Graduate Schools 2006" are out. See a listing of the schools with limited info on each here. More information is available for a payment of $14.95.

June 22, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

UK, US Law Different with Respect to Juror Speech

The  Media Guardian features an interesting essay on the differences between US and UK law on reports on jury deliberations after the trial is completed and the jury has rendered its verdict. Check out the column by Michael Evans and John Borger here.

June 21, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tax Analysts Loses Case Before DC Court of Appeals

Tax mavens have already come across the case of Tax Analysts v. Internal Revenue Service and Christian Broadcasting Network, which has wandered up and down the halls of the courts for some seven years. Tax Analysts had wanted access to the "CBN-IRS closing agreement regarding taxes due for previous taxable years" during some of which "CBN allegedly engaged in political activities in support of presidential candidate and CBN founder Pat Robertson. The IRS audited CBN regarding CBN's past and continued eligibility for tax-exempt status." Tax Analysts filed a FOIA request in order to obtain the document in 1998. "Citing FOIA exemption 3..., the Service declined to disclose any of the requested information except for the February 1998 form 1023 filing and the March 1998 determination letter. On July 20, 1998, TA sent a letter to CBN requesting the same information. CBN, like the IRS, declined to produce any document except for the Form 1023 and the determination letter. Shortly thereafter, TA filed this action...."

After examining TA's arguments against the district court's dismissal of its suit, the appellate court upheld the dismissal. For more, see Paul Caron's discussion on TaxProf Blog here. Read the case here. 

June 21, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Commodity Futures Trading Corp. Wants Data from McGraw-Hill

The Commodity Futures Trading Corporation has asked the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia to enforce a subpoena against Platts, a McGraw-Hill company which publishes Inside F.E.R.C., for "energy- related documents it served on McGraw-Hill in April 2005. As alleged in the application papers, the CFTC subpoenaed McGraw-Hill for documents to be produced by April 28, 2005, but McGraw-Hill refused to produce certain categories of responsive documents. The subpoena was issued as part of the CFTC’s ongoing energy investigations." Read the Application for an Order to Show Cause Here. The company being investigated, which CFTC has not named, says it did not keep the data. McGraw-Hill is currently resisting divulging the information.

Read the AP story here. Read the CFTC's Memorandum of Points and Authorities here.

June 20, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Cert Petition Filed in Grosso v. Miramax

The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that a cert petition has been filed in the case of Grosso v. Miramax. Jeff Grosso is a screenwriter whose work The Shell Game had been seen by executives at Miramax. Although Miramax did not use his script, it later made a film which Grosso thought closely resembled his work. While it upheld the dismissal of his infringment of copyright claim, the 9th circuit had held that Grosso's state law claim for breach of implied contract was not preempted--thus the district court's dismissal of his suit was improper. Read the 9th Circuit's opinion here. Read the Hollywood Reporter story here. (limited access; access to the full story requires subscription).

June 17, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Runaway Bride Inks Deal

"Runaway bride" Jennifer Wilbanks and her fiance, John Mason, have sold the rights to their stories to ReganMedia, a New York based company. Wilbanks' attorney, Lydia Sartain, told reporters that Wilbanks had lost her job and needed to make some money to pay the bills, but according to reports, some officials in Wilbanks' home town of Duluth, Georgia are upset. Legislatures have tried unsuccessfully through "Son of Sam" laws to prohibit convicted felons from profiting through such deals. However, Willbanks pled no contest to a felony. She received a sentence of community service and probation. Read a FoxNews report here. A Denver Post article is here.

June 16, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

He's Ready for His Closeup

Mark Felt has closed a deal with Tom Hanks and Universal. Variety is reporting that the studio, Hanks and his partner Gary Goetzman have bought the Felt family's and John O'Connor's rights and are going ahead with a picture deal that will presumably make a big-screen flick out of the Vanity Fair piece, Felt's memoir and Felt and O'Connor's upcoming book. See the Variety account here.

June 16, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Arrests in Newsday, Hoy, Circulation Fraud

NPR, Newsday, and other media are now reporting that two Tribune-owned papers, Newsday and Hoy, have apparently been reporting wildly inaccurate circulation figures since 2002. Today the federal government unsealed an affadavit alleging exactly how the fraud was carried out: three of the Tribune Company's former employees are accused of putting together a complex plan involving the destruction of newspapers, kickbacks, and false statements to independent auditors. Read the affadavit here.  Read the NPR story here.  Read a story in Newsday itself here.

June 15, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Federal Appeals Court of Canada Considers File Sharing Case

File sharing via peer to peer (P2P)  networks is just as contentious an issue in Canada as it is in the U.S. as the case of BMG Canada et al. v. John Doe et al. makes clear. This ruling, handed down by Canada's Federal Court of Appeal on May 19, considers several important issues, including whether an ISP must turn over the names of anonymous users of its services without a court order and whether those anonymous users are infringing the copyright of creators of musical works when they download recordings via the net.

Read the court's decision here. Read Professor Michael Geist's commentary here and here.

June 15, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Texas Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court; Finds for Media Appellants in Defamation Case

In Associated Press v. Boyd, the media appellants challenged the denial of summary judgment motions in a defamation suit brought by an attorney over published articles that summarized the attorney's alleged involvement in an ongoing matter being investigated by the SEC. "Neither article expressly stated the SEC lawsuit against Boyd was a civil proceeding or that the SEC does not prosecute criminal violations of federal securities laws." The attorney filed a defamation suit against the media involved "alleging the gist of the articles gave the false impression that the SEC was criminally prosecuting [him] for securities fraud by making untrue representations, omitting material facts and misleadingly justaposing events."

Boyd argued that the entire import of the articles implied that he was being "criminally prosecuted by the SEC for securities fraud". Said the court, "[a] publication can convey a defamatory meaning by omitting or juxtaposing facts, even though each individual statement considered alone might be literally true or nondefamatory....A plaintiff alleging defamatory based on an article as a whole must provde the article's "gist" or "sting" is false and defamatory....In such a case, the plaintiff may recover even if the discrete facts are literally or substantially true, provided they are published in such a way that they create a substantially false and defamatory impression by omitting material facts or justaposing facts in a misleaing way."

According to the appellate court, what creates the "sting" of the articles was not the omission of "whether it was a criminal or civil proceeding" but the accurate information relating to the investigation of his activities. "Here it is undisputed that Boyd had been accused of the unlawful conduct of participating in securities fraud. The forum in which those accusations were made, be it criminal or civil, did not materially affect the sting caused by the accurately reported allegations of Boyd's participation in a fraudulent scheme."

Based on its reading of the articles in question, the court reversed the finding of the trial court. Read the opinion here.

June 14, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)