Recap: Here’s how we advocated for press freedom in 2017

By on March 21, 2018

The Legal Affairs Committee joined over 22 amicus efforts in state and federal courts in 2017, protecting the ability of digital journalists to inform the public and continue to create groundbreaking journalism. These efforts spanned a wide variety of topics. Here’s a snapshot of our activities:

  • Access to public records. We joined publishers and other journalism organizations to submit comments to the Los Angeles Police Department advocating for policies that ensure access to footage from police body cameras and to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court advocating for full online access to court records. We also joined as amici in support of a class-action lawsuit challenging excessive fees for accessing court records through PACER; seeking same-day access to complaints when they are filed in court; and challenging orders sealing materials filed in court.
  • Confidential sources and reporter’s privilege. We joined several amicus efforts urging courts to quash subpoenas seeking confidential sources and reporting materials, including a brief supporting reporter Jamie Kalven’s motion to quash a subpoena seeking information about confidential sources in his reporting for Slate about the shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police.
  • Government surveillance. We joined an amicus effort in the Supreme Court case of Carpenter v. United States, opposing warrantless searches of cell phone location data and emphasizing the First Amendment implications of this data for the court. We also joined with other organizations to support a challenge to the constitutionality of the national security letter (NSL) statute, arguing that the statute’s gag order preventing organizations from disclosing any details about their receipt of NSLs is an unconstitutional prior restraint.
  • Online speech. We joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other organizations in a statement to the Court of Justice of the European Union challenging efforts to apply requests for “delisting” from a search engine on a worldwide basis, rather than limiting them to the European country where the request was made. We also joined a media amicus effort in Hassell v. Bird — a decision pending in the California Supreme Court — to emphasize the importance of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to digital news sites that engage with their readers through forums and comment functions.
  • Tracking threats to journalists. We spoke out against the troubling swell in arrests and harassment of journalists for reporting the news, from state capitols to Standing Rock. We joined the National Press Club in calling for a grant of asylum to the award-winning journalist Emilio Gutierrez, who has faced death threats for his reporting in his native Mexico. We also signed on as a partner organization in the Press Freedom Tracker, a new project spearheaded by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Freedom of the Press Foundation that tracks threats across the United States. If you encounter a legal threat in your work — including subpoenas for newsgathering information, equipment searches or seizures, border stops, physical attacks, leak investigations, and arrests — consider submitting the incident to the tracking project through their submission form.

2018 is already shaping up to be another year of innovative digital journalism. We will continue to advocate for a free and open press and for access to the records and data that inform vital public reporting, while opposing legal threats to digital journalists and publishers, including leak investigations, prior restraints, arrests, and baseless threats of lawsuits aimed at keeping important stories from coming to light.

We would love to hear from you about the legal issues that are concerning you the most. Email us at legal@journalists.org and let us know how we can help.

Alison Schary

Alison Schary is ONA's general counsel. In her role at Davis Wright Tremaine, she represents and counsels clients on a wide range of issues in media and intellectual property law, including libel, privacy, copyright, newsgathering and First Amendment matters. Alison regularly defends clients against claims for defamation, privacy and newsgathering torts, and she has experience representing both plaintiffs and defendants in intellectual property matters. Alison also advises newspaper, magazine, website, television and book-publishing clients on pre-publication and pre-broadcast legal issues.