Journalism and Law
Law is one of the major pillars of society. And in journalism, legal rules are a complicated and fluid series of decisions that define acceptable conduct and draw the boundaries of the proffession. This is to say; the law is constantly changing in journalism. Today, a new law will be made, and tomorrow it will be overturned by more modern law. It is always about what works best now and what seems to close for doors for news. As we all know, journalism is important because it serves as the watchdog and whistleblower in society. It keeps taps on politics and touches every aspect of humanity.
But there must be laws that govern what people do with the information and vise versa. Generally, a particular clause may intent to offer clear guidance, but it may be hammered out in text case after test case. Considering this, it is vital that we only introduce the subject in this article. There is a lot more to learn in the context because law and journalism is an essential cause for a starting journalist. They may meet rules in the field, but a solid foundation is necessary.
In every country, there is a court system that governs its operations. In the USA, for instance, the system is defined as labyrinthine. First, there are federal courts, and the local courts; a military court system; and different courts for the territories of the US and Washington DC. Each system has levels stating from the trial, then the intermediate appellate, to the supreme courts. The trial courts make the initial decision, which is reviewed by the intermediate appellate and the supreme courts. At the very top is the US Supreme Court that deals with very serious matters, nationally, internationally, and inter-state. The trial courts are the only courts that use juries, whereas higher ones use panels of judges to give a verdict. There are two kinds of suits:
- A civil suit. This is the action which a plaintiff brings against the defendant. In this case, the earlier asks, the later for monetary responsibility for something they did wrong.
- Criminal suit. The defendant is accused of acting against the criminal statute. The penalty may amount to a jail term and/or fines.
Several legal issues engulf journalism practices. However, most problems revolve around the First Amendment rights, libel, privacy, emotional distress, and regulations of the media, among others.
The First Amendment
Many people tend to abuse this amendment of rights without knowing what the exact working means. Here is the clause in the US Constitution First Amendment:
Amendment I. “Congress, shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Looking at this, it easy for someone to assume that the government has not to mandate to interferes with the free speech – and this case, the press. But the US Supreme Court has won a lawsuit after a lawsuit, quoting its role in regulating the media and free speech – which is not precluded in the amendment.
Hence, the issues of government censorship have been disturbing many since the 1500s. This is the time when the first instance of government censorship can be traced. Famous philosophers like Milton and Locke have been quoted on their arguments about government interference in the press. They viewed the government as only having the mandate to protect its citizens. And for more than 400 years, the argument concerning freedom of the press still rages.
And since winning its freedom from Britain, the First Amendment has continuously been challenged. The matter of prior restraint has often been the major point of interest – an official review on the permitting of censorship. And the Supreme Court has rule over the matter more than twice, always reserving itself in the process. And now, with technology in play, this issue has become hotter today than ever. Social media has taken control of information dissemination, creating more chaos and confusion. It, therefore, calls for a prospective journalist to learn about dozen of statues that are subject to speech alone.
Libel and slander
Libel is a piece of false statement written and published about an individual that negatively impacts their reputation and/or is personally offensive. Slander is the same but verbally spoken. But even when the individual sues the journalist, several defensive statements may cause them to lose the case. Defamation must be proved beyond reasonable doubt and that the defendant is the cause. Today there, there are too many media outlets and varying nature of printed media. And now the courts face a hard time trying to prove the source of libel action. Beginning journalists should request assistance from the counsel of attorneys working for their media outlets.
This is the hottest single topic of debate in the twenty-first century. Privacy has always been something a person guard jealously. But the introduction of technology through mobile devices has changed all this. There are a few privacy laws passed by the congress, but there is still no telling where a person’s right to privacy ends, or to what extent the government should be involved. Current privacy legal issues address “false light,” private facts, and appropriation. Also, privacy facts deal with publishing information that is embarrassing or using the name of another person without permission. Before releasing anything that seems inflammatory, a journalist should seek legal counsel.
This is one of the most challenging areas of the law of journalists. The plaintiff may clean the negligent infliction of emotional stress, whereby the defendant is liable because they did not care. The defendant has a “duty of due care,” which becomes a breach if they ignore. But the complainant must demonstrate that the defendant did it intentionally. This is all about journalism ethics.
There are many other areas a beginning journalist should look at regarding law. They include parameters of gathering news, reporter privilege, intellectual property, and electronic media. It is advised that one seeks legal counsel whenever faced with these issues.
Author: James Hamilton