Championing access to information and government transparency: 2020 legal affairs in review

Updates from the Online News Association's Legal Affairs Committee

By on February 2, 2021

In 2020, the Online News Association (ONA) pressed for access to records and proceedings in the U.S. that would help the public understand stories of local and national importance. We also continue to challenge restrictions on digital journalists’ ability to gather and report the news.

Collaborating with other journalism organizations, we:

  • Joined amicus efforts that successfully opposed the Chicago police union’s attempt to require that police misconduct records (which are subject to state public-records laws) be destroyed after five years
  • Supported a nonprofit advocating for reform of Philadelphia’s bail system in creating recordings of bail hearings
  • Sought public access to information about the suppliers of lethal injection drugs in Indiana
  • Supported a challenge to a Maryland law that prohibits dissemination of recordings of trial proceedings made by the courts
  • Supported a challenge to the constitutionality of an “ag-gag” law in Arkansas (as we have in other states) targeting undercover investigations of commercial agriculture facilities
  • Joined a coalition of press advocates in two cases arguing that tweets and hyperlinks are not “republications” of earlier-published articles so as to restart the statute of limitations
  • Joined a U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief in the closely-watched case Van Buren v. United States, which challenges overly broad interpretations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) on First Amendment grounds.
As millions of people across the U.S. protested police brutality and racial injustice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, ONA joined other media organizations to send letters to police departments in Minnesota, New York, Colorado and California condemning attacks on credentialed journalists covering the protests. We also joined an amicus brief in a class-action suit by the ACLU on behalf of journalists targeted by law enforcement while covering Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, successfully arguing that the court should not require journalists covering the protests to obtain credentials — whether from the government or a third party like the ACLU.

Throughout the year, ONA also sought transparency for journalists covering the White House and the federal government. Among these efforts, we:

  • Joined other journalism organizations in seeking meaningful access to the proceedings in President Trump’s first impeachment
  • Supported journalist Brian Karem’s successful challenge to the White House’s suspension of his press credentials
  • Supported a successful challenge to interventions by Michael Pack and leadership of the U.S. Agency for Global Media that interfered with editorial independence at USAGM broadcasters, including Voice of America.
  • Are supporting an ongoing challenge to the enforcement of NDAs signed by Trump campaign staff.

Read more

Explore the 2020 Retrospective to learn more about ONA’s mission to inspire and support innovation in digital journalism, and the impact of our work in the past year.

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.