Press Law

As a journalist, you have to know the basics of press law so that you don’t do anything wrong. Here are some basic concepts from press law:

Access to Media

There are many ways to access media. There is television, radio, newspapers and magazines. We also have the internet. This happens to be the most popular form of access to media today. Social sights on the internet have grown in staggering amounts over the years. People have a right to state their opinion, but there are laws that protect the person you may be discussing. Take caution when doing so. You may find yourself in a lawsuit.


Accreditation is the act of granting credit or recognition to educational institutions that maintain suitable standards. An official review board checks the institution periodically, and when they meet certain state requirements, they become an accredited institution.
Another form of accreditation is to send someone to act as an official representative. A person may also recognize or vouch for something or someone as conforming with a certain standard. For example, a witness in court may be accredited to testify on a particular case.


Censorship is basically to suppress speech, public communication or other information that may be considered objectionable, harmful or sensitive. Certain authorities and government agencies determine if something should be censored. An individual may engage in censorship. This is called self-censorship. An example of a person who may do this would be an author. Examples of certain projects that may be censored are film, music or books. This controls things like child pornography, hate speech and obscenity.


citation is an order to appear in court to defend against a charge. This may be issued by a police officer or a court. If a person does not appear at the designated time, a warrant for their arrest will be sworn out and the penalties much greater. Sometimes a person can consent to the penalty in writing and not have to appear in court. For example, you may get a ticket from an officer. Some tickets can be paid before the court date. This is your admission of guilt for the ticket and releases you from appearing in court. A citation can also mean a reference to a legal authority, such as a case or statute.

Conflict of Interest

Conflict of interest is when a person has a conflict between their professional duties and their private lives. One duty can also conflict with another. For example, if a person is called to jury duty, they are required by law to appear. The authorities then determine who will be selected for the jury. If the person appearing happens to be related to the accused, that would be a conflict of interest, and the person would be released from jury duty. A lawyer may represent one party in a case and it may be against a relative. The relative may seek representation from the same lawyer. That would also be a conflict of interest.


Copyright is a bundle of exclusive rights granted to the author of a creative work. It can be a book, song or photograph. Any work that an author has done is his property. The author has rights to make copies, authorize others to make copies, sell the work or perform the song. They may sell these rights or transfer the copyright ownership if they so choose. Once the work is in tangible form, the copyright is automatic. Registering the work with the copyright office, however, adds extra benefits of protection to the author.

Expression of Opinion

Everyone has a right to express their views and opinions freely. Other human rights, however, cause this right to be controlled because of situations like “hate speech” and “hate crimes.” This right also includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and the right to give or receive information to the media in regards to their opinions. When expressing an opinion, a person should take caution and not take a situation too far. There are legal ramifications when abusing this right.

Factual Claims

A factual claim is a claim based solely with facts or contains facts. There are no theories or personal opinions. They show that a condition has, does or will exist. Statistics , examples and testimony back up a factual claim. The kind of support for a factual claim depends on the situation. If a person makes a factual claim, they need to be sure they have concrete support to back it up. For example, if you claim that a person stole your property, you need substantial proof that this actually happened.

Freedom of Information Act (USA)

The Freedom of Information Act is a law that allows for the full or partial disclosure of information that was previously unreleased. These are documents that are controlled by the U.S. government. Individual states have their own Freedom of Information Acts. These are not the same as this one. Some thought that government information should be classified. People have a right to know, so congress enabled this act for requests to see government records. The information if protected, and there are restrictions to gaining access to them. These restrictions include security clearance and how important the need to know is. If someone suspects illegal tampering of the documents or delay in sending them, they should go to the federal courts.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech is the right to communicate opinions or ideas using body and property. A person may communicate these ideas to anyone who is willing to receive them. Again, there are certain restrictions on this. The restrictions protect others from anything that is offensive to society, special interest groups or individuals. A person who does not abide by the restrictions set forth on the Freedom of Speech Act may be charged with libel or slander.

Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press if the freedom of communication and expression through various electronic media and published materials. This includes television, radio and magazines. It protects the right to publish opinions without the fear of being punished. It also covers the right to obtain information from others and publish or broadcast it with their approval. For example, a journalist may obtain an interview from someone and then publish it with that person’s consent. This publication is that person’s opinion and is protected by this act.


An imprint is a legend telling about the publisher. It includes their name, year and place of publication. This imprint must appear on most printed materials. It is listed at the foot or front and back sides of the title page. A single publisher can have multiple imprints. The imprint of a work may be one of the trade names of the company. Imprint also covers different runs of the same edition of a book or work.

Indecency and Obscenity

There are laws that control obscene or indecent broadcasts. These laws are governed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Obscene programs cannot, by law, be aired at any time. Indecent programs cannot be aired during certain hours. FCC has to carefully determine which are obscene or indecent because of the First Amendment rights and not interfere with Freedom of Speech.

Obscene programming is anything that an average person finds provoking lustful thoughts. According to applicable laws, the material must show sexual conduct in a way that is offensive. The material can also lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value to be considered obscene.

Indecent material is material that contains sexual or excretory material. This material does not qualify as obscene because it is not at that level. According to the First Amendment, this material cannot be banned completely but can be restricted.


Indemnification is a guarantee against a loss or damage that another might suffer. One party may have to pay another party for a particular loss that was suffered. Cash payments, repairs, replacement or reinstatement are all forms of indemnification. For example, if you have an accident and destroy a person’s fence, you are required to either repair, replace or pay them for the fence. Insurance companies cover insured drivers when they have an accident according to what is stated in their contract. This is also a form of indemnification.

Informational Self-Determination

Informational self-determination covers the protection of an individual against unlimited collection, storage, use and disclosure or his personal data. The individual has the right to determine how much personal data he chooses to disclose and may be used. The only limitations on this right are in case of a huge public interest. For example, if their is a serious crime committed, the public certainly has a right to know what comes of the individual committing the crime. This if for the public’s own protection and peace of mind.


A leak is when someone comes forward with information about a particular case. It can be leaked to news sources and magazines. Leaks serve an important function. Most of the information received by the media is acquired through leaks. There can be good leaks or bad leaks. The good gives information to help the public understand the situation with no intent of harming anyone. Bad leaks do cause harm and offer no aid in helping the public to understand the issue. For example, a bad leak may give information on someone and their family just to make the family look bad in the public eye. This can lead to loss of jobs, family break-ups and sometimes even more serious issues.


Libel is an untruthful statement about a person. This statement is published in writing or through broadcast media and injures the person’s reputation or standing in the community. Libel is a civil wrong. The injured person can bring a lawsuit against a person who makes false statements against them. Libel is similar to slander. The difference between the two is that slander is spoken about a person but not published or broadcast. Both are considered wrong and can have consequences.

Media Antitrust Policy

The marketplace can be competitive for consumers. The Media Antitrust Policy gives them the benefits of lower prices and more choices, products and services. These laws promote competition and protect the consumer from anti-competitive mergers and business practices. The Federal Trade Commission works with the Bureau of Economics to enforce these laws. They seek out the unlawful practices and leave the courts to determine which are illegal based on the facts they provide.

Newspaper Preservation Act (USA)

The Newspaper Preservation Act authorizes the formation of joint operating agreements among competing newspaper companies within the same market area. This act exempts newspapers from certain provisions of Antitrust Laws. Many cities have terminated the act, but there are a few cities who still have this. It basically states that if two daily newspapers are published in the same city or geographic area, they will combine business investigations while maintaining separate and competitive operations.


Objectivity is the act of objecting to a statement made. An attorney may make a formal statement protesting something that has occurred in court. The attorney then expects an immediate ruling from the judge about the objection. Attorney may object to the question asked because legal standards are not met. The question may be irrelevant to the situation. Sometimes the question may be seeking an opinion rather than the facts. In this case, the attorney would object. The trial attorney must be alert and object to the question before the witness answers. An objection can be overruled by the judge if they feel there is appropriate need for the question.

Ownership of Images

Ownership is the legal right to the possession of a thing. Copyright laws protect the images of a work. The Fair Use Act is used to determine whether the images may need to be turned over. The factors that have to be taken into consideration for this act to apply are the purpose and character of the use of the images, the nature of the work, the amount of the portion of work used and the effect the use has on the potential market. Taking photos at an event typically has low risks. The more the images are used in social media, however, the higher the risk becomes for the photographer to be required to turn over the images. Depending on the situation, they can also face consequences.

Presumption of Innocence

Presumption of Innocence means that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. The prosecution must prove to the courts and the jury beyond a doubt that the person did do what they are accused of. Each essential element of the crime must be proven. Witnesses can be called to testify against the defendant, but they must be honest and give statements that prove the guilt of the defendant. The opinion of the witness to believe them to be guilty for whatever reason is not good enough.


Privacy is the right to be free of public scrutiny that is not necessary. A person has the right to be left alone. A person or group of people have the right to seclude themselves or information about themselves. When something is private to a person, it means that it is sensitive and inherent to them. A person may voluntarily give up their right to privacy. Generally, when this is done, it is for the exchange of benefits. There can be consequences of this, however, so one should be careful when doing so. They may encounter dangers or losses.

Right To Refuse To Give Evidence

If a witness has a good personal or objective reason for doing so, they may reserve the right to refuse to give evidence. An example of a personal reason would be marriage. Objective reasons would be for certain professions. Examples of these are clergymen, physicians or attorneys. The rights to refuse to give evidence are limited. If the person protected gives their consent, the evidence must be turned over. They also may not be admitted as witnesses without the consent of the person protected.

Self-Regulation of Media

Self-Regulation of Media is the control or guidance of mass media by governments and their bodies. Some of the goals obtained are to protect a public interest or encourage competition and an effective media market. The control is mainly against television, radio or the press. Even with the Freedom of the Press, this regulation protects the public and important figures to a certain degree. For example, when the President makes a speech, Self-Regulation of the Media is in play.

Shield Law

The Shield Law is a law in some states that makes communication between news reporters and informants confidential and privileged. The journalists are free of the obligation to testify about the informants in court. This is similar to the lawyer-client privilege. The journalists are able to gather their information without being required to reveal their sources or notes. If a state does not have the Shield Law, a judge may find a reporter in contempt of court for not revealing their information. They can be given a jail sentence for this if the judge so chooses.

Sunshine Law

The Sunshine Law is a law that provides public access to government agency meeting and records. The government agency is required to give advanced notice to the public before holding these meetings. There are exceptions to this, but the law states that an agency must fall under one of the ten exemptions before it is decided if the meeting can be private. The reason for this law is that the government is designed to serve the people, and they should be held accountable for the actions they decide to take on behalf of the people.

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