Briefs & Comments

  • February 22, 2017

    John Sepulvado, a journalist formerly with Oregon Public Broadcasting, was subpoenaed to testify about his interviews with participants in the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. In support of Sepulvado's motion to quash the subpoena, the Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in Portland, Ore., stressing the importance of recognizing a reporter's privilege and arguing that compelled testimony compromises the independence of the news media.

  • January 30, 2017

    John D’Anna, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, wrote a story several years ago based upon two interviews he had conducted with Father Joseph Terra, a victim of aggravated assault. D’Anna received a subpoena from the criminal defendant, requiring D’Anna to appear in court and produce all notes and materials related to the interview. D’Anna and Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. (“PNI”) filed a motion to quash the subpoena. The trial court denied PNI’s motion to quash, but the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s decision, finding that reporters have a First Amendment qualified privilege against the compelled disclosure of information obtained during newsgathering. The Arizona Supreme Court then accepted review.

  • January 24, 2017

    John and Jane Steinmetz filed a defamation lawsuit against a landscaping design company, after an argument following a government body's rejection of the Steinmetz's construction plans. The defendant moved to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute, but the plaintiffs argued that the statute did not apply in federal court and was an unconstitutional denial of a jury trial under the 7th Amendment. The district court dismissed the suit. On appeal, the Reporters Committee and Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit. The brief focuses on the history and public policy of anti-SLAPP legislation and how these statutes are necessary for a healthy press.

  • December 12, 2016

    University of Virginia administrator Nicole P. Eramo sued Rolling Stone LLC, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and Wenner Media LLC for an article posted on Rolling Stone's website entitled "A Rape on Campus." The jury found Erdely liable for her reporting, and found that while Rolling Stone was not liable for defamation when the article was posted on November 19, 2014 because it had no actual malice then, appending an editor's note on top of the original page was a republication of the article, and the news site thus became liable only after that was done. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight media companies argued in support of the publishers' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict that editor’s notes serve the public interest, and publishers should not be penalized for informing the public of developing information and explaining their newsgathering decisions when inaccuracies are discovered.

  • November 4, 2016

    The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 29 media organizations in intervening in a French high court case between Google and the CNIL, the French privacy authority that enforces the data privacy directive. Google had been ordered to delist certain articles from its search results when searches are conducted by name. Google had complied with the demains within Europe, but the CNIL had ordered that the delisting command apply to Google domains worldwide.  The media coalition argued that French authorities had no right to force their interests on Internet users in other countries, and allowing such worldwide restrictions in the interest of enforcing domestic law would lead many other countries to try to restrict Internet access. The coalition brief was written with attorneys from WilmerHale.

  • November 4, 2016

    The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 29 media organizations in intervening in a French high court case between Google and the CNIL, the French privacy authority that enforces the data privacy directive. Google had been ordered to delist certain articles from its search results when searches are conducted by name. Google had complied with the demains within Europe, but the CNIL had ordered that the delisting command apply to Google domains worldwide.  The media coalition argued that French authorities had no right to force their interests on Internet users in other countries, and allowing such worldwide restrictions in the interest of enforcing domestic law would lead many other countries to try to restrict Internet access. The coalition brief was written with attorneys from WilmerHale.

  • November 1, 2016

    The Reporters Committee, joined by 31 news organizations, filed a brief in the Third Circuit in support of two individuals who had been arrested for photographing police officers during arrests. The district court in Philadelphia had held that individuals have no First Amendment right to record officers in public unless they do so to criticize the police. The amicus brief argued that photos and videos provided by citizens and bystandards are valuable to the news media and the public, and taking such images should be encouraged.

  • October 28, 2016

    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in the Second Circuit with 26 media organizations arguing that details of an auditor’s report of HSBC Bank should be public. The auditor reports the bank’s compliance with a deferred prosecution agreement, as part of which HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion for money laundering. The brief argued that there is an overwhelming public interest in access to court documents involving newsworthy material, and that unsealing the monitor’s report will serve the vital functions of discouraging government misconduct and promoting informed public discourse.

  • October 6, 2016

    Christopher Porco filed a right of publicity claim under New York Civil Rights Law Section 51, arguing that Lifetime's broadcast of a film about his crime was "substantially fictionalized" and for commercial purposes. The Reporters Committee focused on the fact that under the statute, Lifetime could only be held liable if it broadcast the film “for advertising or for purposes of trade.” Having such a narrow scope, Section 51 did not apply to the docudrama, which did not use the plaintiff’s likeness for either of these reasons but rather to describe an actual event of public interest.

  • October 3, 2016

    Plaintiffs Ray Askins and Christian Ramirez sued the Department of Homeland Security to challenge policies of Customs and Border Protection that ban photography at United States ports of entry without advanced permission from CBP. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs, arguing that policies that restrict the news media's ability to photograph or record activity at the US border impinge upon the press's constitutionally protected rights to gather news and report on matters of public concern. We argued that photography and recording are essential elements of reporting on matters of public concern, including those that arise at the border; that strong public policy rationales underlie a First Amendment right to photograph public officials such as CBP officials; and that national security concerns do not provide a compelling interest that justifies the CBP photography policies.

  • September 30, 2016

    A Hungarian journalist at abcug.hu, an online news portal, was denied access to two Hungarian refugee camps. A report by the Hungarian Commissioner for Fundamental Rights described these conditions as amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment. His requests were denied based on the privacy interests of the refugees. The Reporters Committee joined a coalition that intervened in the case, arguing that European Union law allowed journalists to report on important public controversies like this.

  • September 16, 2016

    Resolute sued Greenpeace in federal court in Georgia (S.D. Ga., Augusta division) for counts including five separate racketeering violations, defamation, tortious interference with business relations, and trademark dilution. Greenpeace filed motions to dismiss and to strike in early September, emphasizing the application of Georgia's amended anti-SLAPP statute in federal court and Resolute's attempt to "masquerade" what is really a defamation claim as a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). The Reporters Committee and other amici argued first that Resolute cannot be permitted to circumvent the First Amendment by disguising a defamation claim as a RICO violation. Resolute attempted to silence and penalize speech about a matter of public concern, which, if upheld, would undoubtedly cause a chilling effect on speech.

  • September 9, 2016

    Various New Jersey governmental entities argued that citizens of states other than New Jersey should not be allowed to use the Open Public Records Act. The Reporters Committee and a coalition of 18 newsmedia organizations argued that (1) members of the news media play a crucial role in keeping the public informed that is unrelated to the citizenship or geographic location of the journalists involved, and (2) that journalists and news organizations located outside of New Jersey have used OPRA to report on matters of immense importance for both citizens of that state and the country as a whole

  • September 2, 2016

    Microsoft challenged the federal law that allows the Department of Justice to impose gag orders, often permanently, on communications services providers when served with a search warrant for their customers' records. The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of 29 other media organizations, argued that the gag orders function as prior restraints that interfere with the news media's right to receive information, interfere with the right of access to court records, and threaten the confidential relationship between reporters and their sources.

  • August 19, 2016

    The Reporters Committee, joined by 57 news organizations, filed an amicus brief with the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, in support of New York Times reporter Frances Robles in her effort to fight a subpoena to testify about a jailhouse interview and turn over her notes. The amicus brief argued that the trial court that ordered her to testify did not give sufficient consideration to the protections in the New York Shield Law, which only allows subpoenas against journalists for non-confidential information when the information is highly relevant, meaning the case should "rise or fall" with the evidence. The brief argued that reporter's relations with their sources will be jeopardized if such information, and particularly information from jailhouse interviews with criminal defendants, is compelled without meeting that high standard.