Notes for February 10, 2000.
Shaping News Content: Mass Media and the Law
1. Government Censorship.
Limited by First Amendment. Key issue: wartime.
- Vietnam. Few governmentally imposed limits on press. Unlike earlier wars, no need for pre-publication review. Government relies on PR, propaganda instead.
- Post-Vietnam. Military unhappy with press, don't want public to see horrors of war (unpopular, undermines war). Blame media for "loss" in Vietnam.
- Results. Grenada. 1983. Secrecy. No press until Day #4; operation over by then. "Sanitized" war. Press protests.
- Post Grenada
- Sidle Commission. Protect military secrecy; press pools for the first 72 hours.
- Panama. Pool delayed by military.
- Persian Gulf. Pools endure entire war (not just first 72 hours); close military observation of all coverage; pre publication review by field censors; Military goal: restrict coverage; Press forced to rely on military sources in DC/Pentagon. Many facts obscured. Government controls information.
- Publication/broadcast that injures the reputation or lowers esteem.
- Cannot libel the dead.
- Defenses: Truth, Public Interest.
- Time (for reporters, editors). Can take years.
- Money. Defending against suits can be expensive. Average cost $100,000; most do not go to trial.
- Huge damage claims.
- Media often lose at trial level. Win on appeals, yet costs high.
Libel Law: Public People (Public Officials, Public Figures)
- Wide latitude to the press on public matters, public concerns.
- New York Times v. Sullivan, 1964. 1960 editorial advertisement in New York Times dealing with civil rights issues. Defending M.L.King Jr., attacking Sullivan, a police commissioner, and other Southern public officials. Southern public officials sue, attempting to silence the New York Times.
- U.S. Supreme Court in Times v. Sullivan, 1964: (a) debate on public issues is crucial (b) therefore public officials should expect scrutiny, criticism, (c) public officials have the opportunity to rebut charges; they can command media attention, (d) errors inevitable in public issues, public debate so (e) public officials must show that the media acted with actual malice, (f) Actual malice means knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth [extreme carelessness, had serious doubts or should have had serious doubts; source not credible; story not plausible],
- Who are public officials? (a) elected or (b) substantial responsibility for or control over conduct of governmental affairs.
- Public officials' public capacity or general fitness for job.
- All purpose public figures (well known celebrities; public figures in all circumstances)
- Limited public figures: involved in existing public controversy; voluntarily attempt to influence resolution of issues involved. LPF for that issue only.
- Private people must show libel and negligence by media (e.g., negligence = poor sources, carelessness, sloppy work).
Libel: Public Proceedings (e.g., trial, city council meeting,etc.)
Participants have absolute privilege
Press report on proceedings: qualified privilege.
Report must be balanced/fair, accurate.
Libel: Public Performance (play, book, restaurant)
Wide latitude for opinion if reasons given.
Truly private issues don't merit publication or broadcast without the permission of the person whose privacy has been invaded.
Is it private?
No privacy in public. Intrusion: Paparazzi
Publicity about private facts
- Great latitude to the press if public interest high.
- Legitimate public interest very broad.
- Limits: Sensational and morbid prying for its own sake.
Definition of obscenity (Miller test):
(a) Average person, applying contemporary community standards, finds the work, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest.
(b) The content is patently offensive, dealing with sexual conduct.
(c) The work has no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Pornography not the same as obscenity.
Pornography: OK legally.
Different rules for children.
Much more restrictive.