FREE PRESS -- A long-debated federal "shield" law to protect journalists who refuse to reveal their confidential sources got nudged a little closer to passage yesterday, reports Jennifer Harper for the Washington Times.
FREE PRESS -- Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) has again amended her anti-paparazzi bill and appears ready to move it to the governor during the last week of the 2009 legislative session, which ends September 11, reports the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA), which opposes the bill. AB 524 rewrites the decade-old celebrity-hounding law to make it easier for victims of privacy-intrusive images—or prosecutors—to sue the publishers as well as the photographers.
FREE PRESS -- "You don’t see newspapers fighting to open court proceedings the way they used to, and people are starting to notice," reports Adam Liptak in the New York Times. And the main factor to blame—the dramatic slump in daily newspaper advertising income—is at least as bad in California as anywhere else. But one paper says it's still fighting the good fight.
FREE PRESS -- Exploiting a computer network's imperfect security, a hacker unlawfully gains access to private company messages and other documents and copies and forwards them to an Internet information site, where some are posted. The company seeks to find out who the hacker was. If the Internet site is found to be a journalistic publisher under California law, it may be able to ignore the company's subpoena, which would be unenforceable, notes attorney Jeffrey D. Neuburger in MediaShift.
FREE PRESS -- A federal judge in New York has ruled that the government is not entitled to withhold information from Internet news sites related to sealed indictments. "Her ruling is significant for all online media outlets whether it be the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Perez Hilton or TMZ.com," comments Jagajeet Chiba for Gambling911.com.
FREE PRESS -- Mike Rhodes reports in Indybay.org that "Boston Woodard, a prisoner/journalist who is a frequent contributor to Indybay, has been put in solitary confinement in retaliation for an article he wrote about conditions at Solano State Prison."
FREE PRESS -- Photos or video shot through standard lenses of scenes visible in or from public locations are still not going to be ruled actionable as an invasion of privacy, even in this era of Google Street Views, writes attorney Jonathan Bick in the New Jersey Law Journal.
FREE PRESS -- Fallbrook High School’s Tomahawk student newspaper, which was twice censored and had its journalism class eliminated, received the Tom Adler High School Journalism Award during the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) San Diego Chapter awards banquet June 25, reports the Fallbrook-Bonsall Village News.
FREE PRESS -- Here's how an aggrieved videographer, Luke Thomas, describes his run-in with badged authority while covering a meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
FREE PRESS -- "There
are signs on the seventh floor of San Diego's City Hall that say 'authorized
employees only' that weren’t there two weeks ago," reports Eric Wolff for San Diego CityBeat. "And, for the last
week, city staff have been considering installing gates to keep
uninvited members of the public out of parts of City Hall where no
public services are rendered.
"The staff on the seventh floor, mostly bookkeepers, accountants and members of the comptroller’s staff, are jumpy—nervous, it seems, at the sight of strangers.
"What has them on edge?"
It was a request for public documents gone wrong, a confrontation between city staff and Union-Tribune reporters Brooke Williams and Danielle Cervantes last month. The reporters wanted to review public records, as they had in the past. City staff wanted to know why a couple of strangers were wandering around their offices. Arguing ensued, and the reporters were asked to leave the building empty-handed.
The events come to light during a tense time in San Diego’s public-records history. Recently, the Union-Tribune criticized city staff for asking the paper to cover costs related to a series of database inquiries. And a dispute over e-mails requested by voiceofsandiego.org resulted in the online news site threatening to sue the city. That situation is still being resolved by the City Attorney’s office.
CityBeat’s account of events comes from an interview with Williams and an ad-hoc “incident report” put together by the city in which four city staffers described what they witnessed. Cervantes told CityBeat that, for the most part, Williams spoke for her as well. A Union-Tribune blog reported a version of the story, but the paper didn’t know about the existence of the report until CityBeat called Williams and Cervantes for comment.
On June 17, Williams and Cervantes, both reporters on the U-T’s “Watch Dog” investigative team, decided to go to City Hall in person to request and review public records. Williams told CityBeat that she’d left several phone messages asking for the records and finally got fed up. She said she’s requested documents in person in the past with no problems.
According to the city’s report, Veronica Murillo, executive secretary to the comptroller, noticed the pair of reporters “wandering unescorted” on the sixth floor. Murillo said in the report that she knew they weren’t city staff because “one of them was wearing a tank top.” Williams said Murillo offered to walk them up to the seventh floor to help them with their request.
“When I grabbed my jacket, they offered to help me put it on,” Murillo wrote. “They were being overtly nice, so I knew something was up.”
Murillo passed the reporters to Financial Service Operations Manager Marcelle Rossman. Rossman said she offered to assist the reporters and asked them to wait in the entryway. While Rossman searched the city’s file system for the documents, she said, the two reporters “walked about 25 yards into the Comptroller Offices and were examining the labels on storage boxes temporarily stored in the hallways.”
Williams recalls looking at the boxes but said they were located near the area where they were waiting—she said they didn’t get up from the waiting area and that she never touched anything. Cervantes said there was a binder of documents near her on the couch; she flipped through it but then returned it.
“I anticipated Marcelle would come out and say we could look in the boxes,” Williams said.
Rossman told the two to return to the waiting area while she looked into their request. The reporters, however, walked back into the office, Rossman said, and she repeated her request for them to wait. At this point, things got heated, but neither Williams nor Rossman can say how. The three women began arguing over whether the reporters had the right to review the documents then and there. Williams said the documents she wanted—mostly checks from the city to vendors—are “basic public documents” that she had no trouble getting in the past. Rossman wanted time to review the request and to get advice from a city attorney, whom Rossman said she couldn’t reach.
FREE PRESS -- Following a recent meeting with editors of the Antelope Valley Press, Randy
Hill, general manager of the Palmdale Water District, denounced the
newspaper for publishing an internal memo he circulated that alluded to the district's financial woes. Then, the Valley Press reports, he went after his own staff to stanch future leaks.
But the e-mail memo threatening them was also leaked.
The e-mail stated: Effective immediately while working for PWD no employee is to converse, or share information in any way with Antelope Valley Press reporter Alisha Semchuck. Anyone contacted by Alisha should immediately refer her to the General Manager. Failure to follow this directive will subject an employee to disciplinary action up to and including termination.
Leaks to the media about dealings at government agencies are nearly impossible to suppress, according to (Jim) Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association in Sacramento.
Whether government or corporate whistle-blowing, Ewert called leaks to the media "a time-honored tradition."
Demolishing a communication relationship with the press is equally ineffective, Ewert said.
"He's cutting off his nose to spite his face if he thinks he's going to control the flow (of information)," Ewert said.
Targeting a reporter to be singled out is shaky practice viewed through the lens of case law, Ewert said.
"If they're going to provide access to one media source, they must provide to all," Ewert said. "They have to treat all media sources the same." That conclusion falls under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Hill, reached for comment by the reporter for this story, said that singling her out was not the whole intent of his order to cease and desist from supplying information to the Valley Press.
"It applies to all media," Hill said of his memos. "I just happened to use your name because you've been the problem," he told the Valley Press reporter.
FREE PRESS -- A California high school principal's confiscation of most copies of a student magazine reporting on the youthful tattoo phenomenon has prompted outrage from student journalists, free speech advocates, and a state lawmaker who says he'll take legislative action.
As noted in a press release from Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo),
FREE PRESS -- High school students and their faculty advisor on the school newspaper convinced a federal judge in San Diego to strike most of the affirmative defenses raised by their school district in a lawsuit over a principal's decision to shut down the newspaper over content disputes, reports Scott Clines for Courthouse News Service.
FREE PRESS -- A military judge has ordered a news reporter to obey a subpoena and testify in the case of a Camp Pendleton Marine who is facing a court-martial for an interview he gave over the handling of classified material, reports Greg Moran for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In a 12-page ruling released Monday, Cmdr. Kevin O'Neil said the rights of the accused, Pvt. Gary Maziarz, to a fair trial outweigh the First Amendment rights claimed by Rick Rogers, a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Maziarz is facing a charge of willfully disobeying a direct order. Prosecutors say he was under orders not to discuss his role in a ring of Marines who passed top-secret intelligence files on individuals under surveillance to a Los Angeles civilian law enforcement agency.
In 2007, Maziarz pleaded guilty to mishandling classified material and theft of government property and was released from the brig last July. Afterward, Rogers interviewed him for a story that was published in November 2008.
In a subsequent story, Maziarz said he had not been ordered to stay away from the news media and that his lawyer then, appointed by the military, approved his speaking with the newspaper.
Maziarz's new lawyer says Rogers' testimony about his conversations with Maziarz seeking the interview is needed to rebut the charge that he “willfully” disobeyed the order.
California law, which does not bind a military court but which could provide an argument supporting the subpoena under these circumstances, holds that even a strong journalist's shield law like that of this state may be trumped where the subpoenaed information
The rationale: the defendant's federal Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial—and "every man's evidence"—supersedes a state constitutional right like California's shield law for journalists.
The revival of the News last year, after a hiatus of nearly two decades, goes against a national trend of shrinking prison journalism, said James McGrath Morris, who wrote about the penal press in his book "Jailhouse Journalism."
"San Quentin is sort of like a flower coming up in a barren garden," he said.
Lt. Rudy Luna, the program sponsor, said it is not clear why the San Quentin News quit publishing, but the impetus to restart it last year came from then-Warden Robert Ayers. The plan was to teach inmates skills and keep the community informed.
"A lot of the issues with inmates are just lack of information and by putting that information out and telling them we have programs available, maybe we can bring them on board," said Luna.
Being an inmate reporter means unique challenges — no direct access to the Internet, no ability to make a quick phone call or send an e-mail. It also means having thousands of potential critics living right next to you.
FREE PRESS -- The California Coastal Commission has served a subpoena on documentary filmmaker Richard Oshen for a copy of his unreleased work, "Sins of Commission," a move which he fears may be preparatory to an efffort "to silence the film because
it reveals strong links between California’s increasingly catastrophic
wildfires and the Coastal Commission’s prohibition of critical brush
"Sins of Commission" examines decades of the Commission's land use policies and questions how a government body could and, indeed did, unilaterally
extend its jurisdiction from 1000 yards landward of the coastline to 5
No matter what your politics, this isn’t America if a quasi-governmental body is going to dictate whether you have the right to see a film. This is a very chilling development, and does not bode well for documentary filmmakers or freedom of speech.
"Sins of Commission" is a work in progress. For a government body to demand a work print if like asking a journalist for their notes, or an author for a copy of their book before publication.
To think, if the government doesn’t like what the see or read—they could issue an injunction and prevent a story from getting out is scary… very scary.
Public interest attorney Ronald A. Zumbrun began his February 12 article in Freedom Advocates, "The Unrepentant Sins Of The California Coastal Commission," with the following reference to the film—a reference that may have been the Commission's first clue that it was soon to get some unflattering publicity:
What do the former mayors of Malibu and San Diego, a former member of the California Coastal Commission, and a former captain of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department have in common? In a soon-to-be released documentary film entitled “Sins of Commission”, these former public servants, along with several other aggrieved property owners, describe in painful detail the transformation of the California Coastal Commission as a protector of the environment into a radical bureaucratic monster.
FREE PRESS -- Graduates at U.C. Riverside don't need commencement speaker references to entry into "the real world." They've got a student newspaper that was stolen from the campus newsracks in bulk when it published "a front-page article about questionable spending
by UCR's former student government President Roxanna Sanchez, who spent almost
$5,000 without authorization to fly herself and an intern to a conference they
were not approved to attend," according to the Student Press Law Center. The unsolved ripoff echoes those done by public officials in San Francisco and Berkeley in recent years.
FREE PRESS -- A journalist has no First Amendment right to shoot pictures at an accident scene from which the public has been excluded, a federal judge decided Tuesday, ruling against an Oakland Tribune photographer who was arrested for taking photos a police officer thought were inappropriate, reports the BayNewser.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer—younger brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer—is not surprising, although the facts of the case are outrageous for working photojournalists (not paparazzi, just ordinary news gatherers), and equally threatening to anyone using a cellphone camera to record an accident scene.
What is surprising is that the photographer's lawyer chose to sue in federal court. California law does provide the affirmative protection this plaintiff should have had, in Penal Code Section 409.5, subdivision (d).
FREE PRESS/SPEECH -- In the months immediately after 9/11 one heard repeated stories of journalists and private citizens being questioned for taking pictures of buildings, port and industrial facilities, bridges, dams etc. for fear of terrorist scouting. That anxiety has pretty much evaporated here, but in another country with several terrible episodes since then, it's now illegal to photograph police and members of the armed forces. But some, on principle, have begun to defy this prohibition, which the police apparently are seldom enforcing anyway.
FREE PRESS -- A federal shield bill that would give reporters a qualified privilege to refuse to identify their confidential sources was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives tonight, reports Larry Margasak for the Associated Press.
The House bill allows a court to compel a journalist to reveal confidential sources in these circumstances:
Even if those requirements are met, the party seeking information must establish that the public interest in compelling disclosure outweighs the public interest in gathering or disseminating information.
FREE PRESS -- Greg Sterling, writing at SearchEngine.com, reports that in reaction to the Mumbai terrorists’ statement that they used Google Maps as a planning tool, a California Assemblyman from El Cajon has introduced a bill which would “not allow online mapping tools from companies like Google Inc. to provide aerial or satellite images of schools, places of worship, government buildings and medical facilities unless they have been blurred.”
“What my bill does is limit the level of detail [ in Google Earth ]. It doesn’t stop people from getting directions. We don’t need to help bad people map their next target. What is the purpose of showing air ducts and elevator shafts? It does no good.”
As introduced, AB 255 would prohibit
Sterling wonders if regulating Internet delivery of satellite images this way is a wise choice of priorities.
If you live in the world of technology it’s easy to quickly dismiss something like this as naive or reactionary or both. That was my first impulse. But it’s also important to recognize the concerns at the heart of this bill, which is unlikely to pass, as legitimate. Technology is moving much faster than the human ability to assimilate and cope with it. To some degree, efforts like this stem from frustration over that fact and represent an attempt to “do something” to address real or perceived problems.
Terrorists are in fact using these tools but they also use other tools as well. The question is: where do we put our efforts and focus?
Would Assemblyman Anderson be equally disposed to limiting access to guns and clamp down on automatic weapons trafficking because automatic weapons are used in these attacks? I don’t know his personal views on guns but Republicans in the US have historically been reluctant to regulate guns in any way. (I’m not trying to suggest that there’s any analogy between guns and online mapping tools.) In this context it’s quite silly to argue that mapping should be regulated when there’s a corresponding refusal to pursue much more dangerous instruments of terrorism.
Limiting “sensitive” information displayed in online mapping has its place but what information should be considered “sensitive”? Indeed, those limitations or restrictions should be defined very narrowly. These tools are now very valuable to people in their daily lives and should remain generally accessible.
FREE PRESS -- In a reversal of an 18-year-old policy that critics said was hiding the
ultimate cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the press will now
be allowed to photograph the flag-draped coffins of America’s war dead
as their bodies are returned to the United States, reports the New York Times—but only if their
The pious and phony posturing persists. Among the unclear points at this juncture:
The no-photos policy did not begin with the Bushes, but as Charles Paul Freund noted in a 2004 piece in Reason magazine, neither was it previously justified by some pretense of concern for "family privacy."
World War II, a singularly misperceived experience, offers telling illustrations of many of the complexities involving both the control of war images and the reaction to them. As author Roeder recounts, for the first two years of that war there was not a single documentary image of American death released to the public. This was a continuation of the policy adopted during World War I, when the American government censored all such images throughout the conflict.
The reason that Franklin Roosevelt followed Woodrow Wilson's censorship example, it appears, is that FDR was uncertain of continued public support, especially for the war in Europe. Until mid-1942, the war news was nearly all bad, and a significant number of Americans thought an overextended U.S. should have concentrated on Japan, which had attacked the country. Nearly a third of the populace favored making some accommodation with Nazi Germany and extricating the U.S. military from Europe. The administration feared that images of the war's dead would demoralize the country, and further erode support for the war's broad strategy. War photographers (who, like war reporters, were actually in uniform) often had to send their unexposed rolls of film to the Pentagon for processing.
By late 1943, however, FDR's administration and the military had completely changed their minds. Americans, they decided, had by then become too complacent about the war. Much of the war news had been positive, and the government was worried about increasing work absenteeism. What Americans needed, thought the state, was a display of military sacrifice; the Pentagon quickly released hundreds of images of dead soldiers to remind civilians that the war remained a deadly business still to be decided. As it happens, many publications refused to publish the images; their editors feared such pictures would "disturb" readers. However, some of the country's largest circulation periodicals, such as Life magazine, did run them, and they were widely seen.
Freund says both views may have missed the mark.
There is an obvious third proposition: Neither of these generalizations about the effect of death imagery was necessarily correct. While there is often a plain and unchanging personal meaning in such images of death, there is no inevitable political meaning in them; rather, their political meaning and impact can change according their context. The most important factor in that context is probably not whether a given conflict appears to be going well, but whether the viewer of such images believes the war's cause to be just, and its pursuit purposeful. If you believe that about the Iraq war, then you probably interpret the coffin images a certain way; if you don't, you probably see a different picture.
FREE PRESS -- Eric Alterman and George Zornick, writing in the Center for American Progress, ask why the national news media appear to be ignoring the recent stunning claim by former National Security Agency analyst Russell Tice that under the Bush Administration the NSA systematically monitored and recorded the phone and other electronic communications of journalists, among others.
Columnist Dave Stancliff of the Times-Standard in Eureka is not among the silent majority. He concludes his February 1 open letter to President Obama thus:
FREE PRESS -- The Berkeley Daily Planet reports that attorneys for the ACLU and the Electronic Freedom Foundation filed a federal court lawsuit today charging numerous civil rights violations by local law enforcement and the FBI in the August 27 raid of Berkeley’s Long Haul Infoshop.
FREE PRESS -- The Sacramento Bee reports that a Woodland dentist abandoned his request yesterday to exclude the media from his trial on charges of sexual battery against female patients.
FREE PRESS -- The Los Angeles Times reports that in Los Angeles, 12 public access studios that provided programming for 11 community channels have been closed by Time Warner Cable Inc.
Perhaps the best known public affairs program, Full Disclosure, is using its website to present actor Ed Asner, attacking members of the Los Angeles City Council and challenging them to "stop the neglect of the public cable access television channels and to start funding the facilities here in the heart of the media world and Hollywood California." The Times adds:
FREE PRESS -- The Sacramento Bee reports that Senate Bill 1370, which went into effect yesterday, protects high school journalism teachers, faculty advisers to student newspapers or from being dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred or otherwise retaliated against for acting to protect a student's speech rights.