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Module 10: New Media and Journalism

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Enhancing Civil Society

Freedom of the press is not just a slogan. Nor is it only for journalists. The right to receive and impart information is a universal one.

But while a system of generally applicable laws benefits everyone, special interest legislation that singles out the news media for protection or provides the press with special rights is less desirable because it invites de facto licensing of the press. It can also create a false sense of confidence.

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Rule of Law

Courageous journalists all over the world have risked their livelihood, and even their lives, to report the news and to bring accurate information to the public in the face of repressive governments and other significant obstacles.

But journalism thrives best where the rule of law is respected. A free press is best protected through a national constitution or by statutory or common law.

However formalized, the law should, at a minimum, protect the news media from censorship and guarantee reporters access to information.

A free press enhances the public’s right to know by encouraging the free exchange of information. Protecting it requires a national commitment.

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Enhancing Civil Society

Of course, bad laws can also be enacted, and even the best law can be repealed or struck down. That’s one of the reasons why some journalists are reluctant to lobby, even for legislation that might benefit them, like shield laws.

Governments change. But public support for a free press should be constant because citizens are the ultimate beneficiary.

Legal Protections

Legal Protections

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Legal Protections

Once strong legal protections are enacted, an independent judiciary is essential to ensure they are applied and enforced equitably. No matter how clear the text of the law, confusion and conflicts may occur. When they do, the judicial branch’s interpretation of the law can be decisive.

Judges and lawmakers who appreciate the importance of a free press are the best assurance that it will be protected. There are also some organizations that work to strengthen and enact laws that guarantee and strengthen freedom of the press.

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FOIA Requests

In the United States, as in most countries, anyone can make a FOIA request. Neither U.S. citizenship nor residency is required, and access is open to all, not just journalists.

Requesters are encouraged to utilize government reading rooms to gain free access to records already released under E-FOIA initiatives or disclosed in response to an earlier FOIA request.

Despite the presumption of openness, however, nearly every freedom of information law includes exemptions for records an agency can withhold.

Exemptions

Exemptions

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Exemptions

The U.S. FOIA has nine exemptions, under the terms of the statute and based on guidance from the Department of Justice. Some of these exemptions are also recognized in other countries.

1. National security
2. Internal agency rules/practices
3. Internal agency memoranda
4. Trade secrets
5. Records made secret by another
federal statute
1.
6. Some law enforcement records
7. Bank records
8. Oil and gas well data
9. Records containing information of personal privacy
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FOIA Requests

Most FOIA exemptions are not mandatory. Agencies may release records if they conclude that the public interest outweighs any harm.

They must be prepared to justify any exemption and to withhold only the exempt portion of any record while releasing the balance.

The necessity of withholding a particular record may evolve over time. In the case of classified records, requesters have the option to appeal to a special review board that will determine whether a previously classified record can now be made public.

Prohibitions

Prohibitions

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Prohibitions

In some countries, access laws include specific prohibitions on withholding certain categories of information. This imposes new obstacles to citizens seeking both intelligence and law enforcement records.

As governments collect more personally identifiable information, agencies frequently invoke the privacy exemptions as grounds to withhold many government records. These exemptions are sometimes vague and difficult to interpret, and the tendency for most record custodians is to withhold the record if there is any doubt.

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FOIA Requests

A requester denied access to a record has a right to appeal. Under FOIA, and in most countries, she begins by seeking an internal review within the agency.

This tactic sometimes, but not always, results in release of the records

Even where the law requires disclosure, administrative backlogs, lack of resources, or inefficiency may result in delays. Most freedom of information laws set deadlines for initial responses but allow additional time to handle complex requests.

Appeals

Appeals

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Appeals

The next step is to submit the appeal for external review. In the United States, that means filing a lawsuit in a federal district court, with subsequent appeals as necessary through the federal appellate courts and even to the Supreme Court.

In other countries, and in some of the individual states in the United States, the requester may appeal to a freedom of information ombudsman, or to an independent tribunal or information commission.

Even in those jurisdictions, a final review can be sought in the national courts.


False-Light

False-Light

False-Light

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Information About Individuals

Information that is in the public domain, (for example, details obtained from public records or proceedings), cannot be the basis of an invasion of privacy suit.

Similarly, individuals who consent to the release of information, or disclose it themselves, generally cannot complain if it is published.

Also, appropriation of an individual’s name or image for commercial purposes is regarded in many jurisdictions as essentially a proprietary right, comparable to a trademark or copyright.

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False-Light

The tort of false-light invasion of privacy is something of a legal anomaly and is not universally embraced. Many false-light cases arise from the publication of photographs or videotape coupled with misleading captions, headlines, or stories.

For example, in 2002, an actor whose photograph appeared on the cover of Playgirl successfully sued the magazine in the US federal court in California by arguing that the combination of the picture and the headlines created the false impression that nude photographs of him, appeared inside.

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Information About Individuals

Valid Reasons

Valid Reasons

Intrusive news-gathering techniques can cause harm. Persistence is appropriate, but aggressive tactics will not be justified in every case.

Although they may be legal, making repeated telephone calls, following a person on the street, taking multiple photographs, or remaining on private property after having been asked to leave may cause distress.

Only an overriding public interest justifies intrusion into individuals’ private lives.

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Valid Reasons

There can be good and valid reasons to report information that a news subject would prefer to keep secret. A public official may wish to keep secret details of an extramarital affair. But if public funds or other resources are used to support the affair, they become a matter of legitimate public interest.

Similarly, crime victims often prefer that their identity remain confidential, and a news organization may agree, at least in the case of children or sexual assault victims.

The news media should balance the rights and interests of both victims and criminal defendants with the right of the public to be informed.

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Balanced Information

Journalism needs to be impartial, objective, balanced and fair. We need to be fair and open-minded and reflect all significant facts and information as we explore a wide range of disparate views.
If we decide not to use some views, we need to be clear why. We need to ask ourselves why we are omitting some information or views and including others.

A good Journalist lays out all the arguments, fairly and accurately, and lets the audience decide for itself.

Verify Information

Verify Information

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Verify Information

Journalism has to be accurate. It is all about clear, irrefutable facts that are tested and well set out. Journalism also needs to be well-sourced. All information must be checked and verified.

All information, facts and sources of the story need to be thoroughly tested to ensure that they are not misleading and that they don’t magnify one side at the expense of another. We need to be open about what we know, what we think we know and what we don’t know.

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Balanced Information

Often journalists scour discussion threads, message boards, blog
comments and online communities seeking ideas and information without
identifying themselves as journalists.

It may be permissible to cite the information if it shows, say, how some YouTube users reacted to a specific video on the site.

Obviously it is not always necessary for a journalist to identify themselves, It will depend on the information acquired and how it will be used.

Identify

Identify

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Identify

if a reporter wishes to use information from a blog, e-mail thread or other Web sources, she should be mindful that deception is endemic to the Internet.

If at all possible, the reporter should attempt to contact the person who posted the information, identify herself as a reporter, and try to persuade the
source to provide full identification.

End Of Unit