The Reporters Committee led a media coalition protesting a Seattle FBI effort to use a fake Associated Press news article and web site to ensnare a criminal suspect. The protest letter was submitted to the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI.
Photographer Paul Raef was prosecuted under California Vehicle Code 40008, basically an anti-paparazzi law that imposes additional penalties on violators of generally applicable reckless driving laws when those violators are driving with the intent to gather news for commercial purposes. The Reporters Committee and seven other groups argued that the law imposes an additional punishment for driving while being a journalist and threatens the First Amendment right of newsgathering. It punishes both paparazzi and members of the mainstream media who are traveling with the intent of gathering news. The law could be used to harass journalists. The amicus coalition submitted a letter brief to the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Four, asking for the court to grant Raef's petition for transfer or, in the alternative, for a writ of mandamus. The court denied Raef's petition for transfer and for writ of mandamus.
A 19-year-old American, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, was arrested as he tried to fly from the United States to Turkey (ultimately to go to Iraq or Syria), and he was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorist organizations. The government moved to have Khan's detention hearing closed to the public, because privacy interests of third-party minors would be implicated. The government filed its motion and brief under seal, so the precise justification to close the hearing was unknown. The Reporters Committee wrote a letter to express concern about closing the detention hearing, arguing that there is a well-established First Amendment right of access to preliminary proceedings in criminal cases, which may only be overcome by an overriding interest based on findings that closure was essential to preserve higher values and was narrowly tailored to serve that interest.
Freelance journalist Wayne Anderson had his "embed" status terminated by the military, and he was removed from Afghanistan. Anderson claimed the termination was in retaliation for his coverage of a conflict between Afghan and American soldiers. His case was dismissed by a federal judge over jurisdictional and service issues. In this brief on appeal, the Reporters Committee argued that Anderson sufficiently pleaded a First Amendment retaliation claim, as a pro se litigant, and the District Court should not have dismissed the claim so early.
Proprietors of Dancing Deer Mountain, a wedding venue in Oregon, sued a Google reviewer, Christopher Liles, for libel following his negative review of his experience at a wedding there. The Oregon Court of Appeals held that some of the defendant's statements were actionable, such as calling the plaintiff "rude" and "crooked," while the defendant argued that those were non-actionable statements of opinion. This filing was asking the Oregon Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decisions. The Reporters Committee argued that the Oregon Supreme Court should accept the defendants Petition for Review because of the importance of clarifying what non-actionable opinion is in the state. The Court of Appeals decisions created confusion as to what may be stated in an online review and what will expose a commenter to liability. Such confusion could limit free speech and have serious consequences for public debate.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter on behalf of 44 news organizations to the Department of Justice urging officials to include police interaction with the press and public in the investigation of the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB") asked for comments regarding a proposed policy whereby it would post consumer complaint narratives in its online Consumer Complaint Database on an opt-in basis. Previously, only aggregate data from complaints submitted to the CFPB was available through the database. The CFPB's proposed policy statement changed this by allowing consumers to have any narrative included in their complaint publicly published on an opt-in basis. The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of news media organizations, submitted comments arguing that all consumer complaint narratives should be published. The disclosure of such comments "would assist journalists who seek to supplement the numbers already made available through the Database with the powerful firsthand experiences of individual consumers," and therefore the public interest weighs heavily in favor of their disclosure, the letter argued.
The Washington Travel Clinic and a doctor sued Yelp reviewer John Kandrac for libel for statements he made about his poor experience at the clinic. Kandrac moved to dismiss the complaint under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute. The D.C. Superior Court dismissed almost all of his claims, but allowed one to survive. At issue in this filing was whether the denial of a special motion to dismiss under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute is immediately appealable under the "collateral order doctrine." The Reporters Committee argued that a special motion to dismiss under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute is immediately appealable. Allowing for immediate appeal in such a case furthers the purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute, which is designed to allow journalists to quickly dispose of meritless suits designed to chill speech.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of media and transparency organizations in the California Court of Appeals to support public access to government records. The case involves access to law enforcement records under California’s Public Records Act (PRA). The original request in the case sought records from the San Diego Police Department regarding six months’ worth of complaints and/or requests for assistance with respect to burglary and identity theft. While the police department released 60 days’ worth of records, it refused to release them for the full six months requested, stating that their obligation to respond under the PRA was “limited to current information of contemporaneous police activity.” That decision was upheld by the Superior Court of California, resulting in an appeal.
The Reporters Committee, joined by 17 other news organizations, submitted an amicus brief in a federal case against the federal government over its collection of telephone log records. Plaintiff Anna Smith filed a lawsuit against the government alleging that its mass collection and logging of telephone call data violated her Fourth Amendment rights. The district court denied Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief, and granted the government's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiff. Citing the close relationship between the First and Fourth Amendments, the Reporters Committee urged the Ninth Circuit on appeal to consider the impact of mass, indiscriminate government call tracking on the ability of the press to gather and disseminate news of public importance.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board sought comments on what issues it should examine as a long-term agenda. The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 24 media organizations in urging the board to investigate the extent to which journalists are being included within the scope of any national security surveillance programs.
The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service has requested public comment on a proposal that could make aggregated food stamp redemption data public record under FOIA. The questions FNS posed have to do with whether such data at the individual store level should be considered exempt under (b)(4) as a confidential business record. The Reporters Committee urged FNS to recognize that this information is public and not exempt under any FOIA exemption.
The case interprets 18 U.S.C. 875(c), which prohibits interstate transmission of a threatening communication. Mr. Elonis posted on his Facebook page several raps about his ex-wife and the judge presiding over their child custody battle. The appeal turns on whether "true threats" -- which are not protected speech -- should be evaluated based on the speaker's subjective intent to threaten, or based on whether an objective/reasonable listener would take the statements as threats. We argue that a subjective intent test is necessary to protect members of the media and provide the broadest leeway for protected commentary, satire and reporting. We do not argue that Mr. Elonis should escape liability for his statements, but rather that the test the lower court applied was erroneous.
The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 48 media organizations in protesting the treatment of journalists and withholding of important information in the aftermath of a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.