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Bulletin Archive

Winter 2009

Bulletin Winter 2009

Top Story

Obama Promises More Government Openness; Skeptics Demand Immediate Results
President Barack Obama took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009 and the next day renewed his promise of a new era of open government and public accountability. Continue reading

Journalist Subpoenas and Shield Laws

Ashenfelter Pleads the Fifth in Ongoing Effort to Protect Confidential Sources
The battle over confi dential sources between former Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino and Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter shifted from First Amendment freedoms to Fifth Amendment protections after Ashenfelter refused to answer questions at a Dec. 31, 2008 deposition, citing the right against compelled self­incrimination. Continue reading

Nevada Shield Law Upheld; Reporter Does Not Have to Testify
A federal magistrate judge in Nevada held that “the plain language” of the state’s reporter shield law confers an “absolute privilege,” protecting a reporter from disclosing sources and other newsgathering information in a Jan. 30, 2009 ruling. Continue reading

Shield Law Bills Introduced Again in U.S. House and Senate
Federal shield bills have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate that would limit the federal government’s power to subpoena journalists. Continue reading

FOIA and Access

2nd Circuit: Detainee Identities Can Be Kept Secret under FOIA
The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Jan. 5, 2009 that the privacy interests of Guantanamo Bay detainees and their families who were the subject of investigations of prisoner abuse outweigh the public interest in their personal information being released to The Associated Press (AP). Continue reading

Minnesota High Court Approves Cameras­in­Court Pilot Program
After nearly two years of debate and competing reports from an advisory committee, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered Feb. 12, 2009 that current procedures governing electronic media coverage in the state’s courtrooms should be retained until a pilot project and concurrent study can be completed. Continue reading

Courts Continue to Deal with Bush Records Policies, E­mails
As President George W. Bush prepared to make way for his successor, Barack Obama, on Jan. 20, 2009, a trio of lawsuits filed by watchdog groups concerned with the preservation of Bush administration records continued to wind their way through federal courts in Washington. Continue reading

FERPA Expanded; Critics Call New Rules ‘Irrational’
The United States Department of Education released a 54­page document on Dec. 9, 2008 that detailed several modifi cations to the enforcement of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Continue reading

Government Wiretaps

Former NSA Analyst Says Wiretap Program Included Journalists
A former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst said the agency’s warrantless surveillance program monitored American news organizations and domestic communications, contrary to assertions by the Bush administration that the program targeted only communications between U.S. residents and suspected terrorists overseas. Continue reading


Accused Politkovskaya Conspirators Acquitted
On Feb. 19, 2009, a jury unanimously acquitted three men accused of helping to organize the 2006 killing of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. The presiding judge ordered the case reopened and press freedom advocates are demanding a renewed and vigorous investigation. Continue reading

Iraq Remains the Deadliest Nation for Journalists
Although Iraq remains the deadliest country in the world for journalists, the total number of reporters killed in Iraq in 2008 dropped signifi cantly from the record numbers of deaths in the preceding two years, in part refl ecting a decline in Western media presence there. Continue reading

Media Locked Out of Gaza Conflict
Israel banned journalists from entering Gaza during its military operations there in December and January, drawing outcry from international press organizations and the United Nations (U.N.). Continue reading

Digital Media

Subpoenas Seek to Identify Anonymous Web Site Commenters and Viewers
Plaintiffs in several defamation lawsuits are seeking court orders to identify anonymous Internet users, raising First Amendment concerns regarding the protections afforded to anonymous communicators on the Internet. Continue reading

Federal Judge Recognizes AP’s ‘Hot News’ Claim in Suit over Online Use of Content
On Feb. 17, 2009, a federal judge refused to dismiss The Associated Press’s (AP) claim that the AP can assert an ownership interest in “hot news” against a competing online service. Continue reading

Judge Allows Live Webcast of Copyright Trial; RIAA Appeals
A U.S. District Court judge in Boston authorized a live Internet video stream of oral arguments in a widely followed fi lesharing lawsuit in January 2009, but the plaintiff recording companies seeking to prevent the webcast have appealed the order to the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Continue reading

Copyright AP Alleges Copyright Infringement over Iconic Obama Image
The creator of a popular poster featuring President Barack Obama filed a lawsuit in federal district court in New York City on Feb. 9, 2009 against The Associated Press (AP), asking the judge to issue a declaration that he did not infringe the AP’s copyright for a photograph that inspired the poster. Continue reading

Music Industry to Abandon Mass Copyright Lawsuits
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced that it will reduce its use of lawsuits to combat illegal online music sharing, and will instead cooperate with Internet service providers (ISPs) to stop the transfer of copyrighted works, a Dec. 19, 2008 story in The Wall Street Journal reported. Continue reading

Update: Blogger Pleads Guilty for Leaking Guns N’ Roses Songs
A blogger who was arrested and charged by federal agents with illegally streaming nine tracks from the then­forthcoming Guns N’ Roses album “Chinese Democracy” pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of copyright infringement as part of a deal with prosecutors. He is scheduled for sentencing on March 17, 2009. Continue reading


1st Circuit Rules Truth Not Always a Defense to Libel
On Feb. 13, 2009, the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston held that truth may no longer be a defense to libel in lawsuits brought by private figure plaintiffs under Massachusetts law if the allegedly libelous statement was published by a defendant acting out of “ill will.” Continue reading

New Jersey Court Ruling Casts Doubt on ‘Fair Report Privilege’
The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, ruled Nov. 12, 2008 that the “fair report privilege” does not extend to fair and accurate reports of a complaint filed by a debtor’s trustee in a bankruptcy case, at least until there has been “judicial review” of the complaint. Continue reading

Libel Tourism Bills Introduced in U.S. House and Senate
A new bill aimed at protecting American journalists, writers, and publishers from defamation judgments in foreign jurisdictions with less stringent speech protections was introduced in the United States Senate on Feb. 17, 2009. Continue reading

Criminal Libel Charges in Colorado, Wisconsin
Authorities in Colorado and Wisconsin have charged three people with criminal libel in separate incidents all involving the Internet. Continue reading

Student Media

New California Law to Protect School Journalism Advisers
As of Jan. 1, 2009, a new California law offers journalism advisors and other school employees increased protection from retaliatory administrative action for material published by their students. Continue reading

High School Editors Face off with Principals
The student newspaper at Faribault High School in Faribault, Minn. returned to the presses in February 2009 after a fight over prior review resulted in the school’s superintendent suspending publication and students turning to the local newspaper and the Internet as alternative means of publishing. Continue reading

Media Ethics

Defense Department Finds ‘No Wrongdoing’ in TV Analysts’ Pentagon Ties
The first of three federal agencies scheduled to weigh in on the controversy surrounding the use of retired military officers as independent analysts on television news programs reported in January 2009 that it found “insufficient evidence” to support allegations that the Defense Department violated federal law. Continue reading

Pentagon Criticized for Mixing PR and Propaganda
Efforts by the U.S. military to merge “public affairs” information operations with those aimed at propaganda have drawn criticism from NATO allies in Afghanistan as well as the Defense Department’s Inspector General. Continue reading

Media Ethics

Lobbyist Settles with New York Times over McCain Story
A lobbyist whose relationship with former Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R­Ariz.) was the focus of a Feb. 21, 2008 New York Times story settled her defamation lawsuit against the newspaper on Feb. 19, 2009. Continue reading

Citing Impartiality, BBC Refuses to Air Gaza Aid Appeal
The BBC announced Jan. 22, 2009 that it would not broadcast a video appeal from a group of British charities on behalf of the civilian victims of recent fighting in Gaza. Continue reading

Human Rights Advocates and Media Critics Question NBC News’ Rwandan War Criminals Investigation
NBC News producers and a Rwandan prosecutor apparently joined forces for a series of surprise confrontations at Goucher College in Baltimore where a man they said was involved in the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda was working as a professor. Continue reading