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.

  • February 7, 2017

    A Gizmodo Media Group attorney was denied access to a court hearing and filings in O'Reilly v. McPhilmy (involving a fraud action brought by Bill O'Reilly against his ex-wife tied to their divorce and custody proceedings). The court sealed the records and closed the courtroom without making the necessary findings on the record. Gizmodo Media sought an appellate order for the immediate release of the transcript from the hearing that was closed. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief agreeing with Gizmodo that closing the doors to the court and maintaining a seal on the materials at issue here without any written findings violated both the First Amendment and New York’s statutory right of access.

  • 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 28, 2016

    The Detroit Free Press sought to obtain the booking photos of federal indictees who had been publiicly named and had appeared in open court through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The U.S. Marshals Service denied the request, citing Exemption 7(C) of FOIA. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the Detroit Free Press. On appeal before the entire circuit court, the Sixth Circuit held that individuals maintain a "non-trival privacy interest" in booking photos. In response, the Detroit Free Press has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review. In support of the petition, the Reporters Committee argues that the booking photos of federal indictees do not implicate any cognizable privacy interests under the Constitution or the common law and should not be exempt from FOIA under Exemption 7(C).

  • December 22, 2016

    The Reporters Committee submitted comments to the Department of Justice regarding its implementation of a "Release to One, Release to All" policy for the federal Freedom of Information Act. The comments were based on an RCFP survey of journalists concerning various aspects of posting records responsive to FOIA requests online.

  • 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.

  • October 3, 2016

    A Canadian court ordered Google to remove links to a company's products from its search engine worldwide, not just in Canada. Google appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Reporters Committee and a coalition of American media companies intervened to argue that such worldwide takedown demands are overbroad and will have a seriously detrimental effect on freedom of expression, particularly if other countries impose similarly sweeping restrictions to enforce their own laws.

  • 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.