7.12 Legal Considerations – Journalism

There are entire texts and semester-long courses that examine the specific laws and regulations under which mass communicators operate. We will discuss here briefly a few of the most relevant types of legal and regulatory constraints that affect communicators’ gathering and use of information in messages in this lesson. We will return to some of these examples in more depth throughout the rest of the lessons where appropriate.

Journalism Law and Regulation

You will learn about the relevant legal and regulatory framework for your career as a journalist in later classes. We will mention just a couple of examples that demonstrate the way that laws and regulations affect journalists’ information strategy process.

Federal, state and local law outlines the way journalists gather information. For example, photographers/videographers have a constitutional right to photograph anything that is in plain view when they are lawfully in a public space. Police officers may not confiscate or demand to view journalists’ photographs or videos without a warrant. However, the right to photograph does NOT give journalists the right to break other laws. For example, you may not trespass on private property to capture an image.

Likewise, there are a wide variety of laws that detail the types of information that are accessible to the public, including journalists. Public records laws will be discussed in more detail in Lesson 13. Suffice it to say that journalists have many tools in their toolbelt when they are seeking access to public record information.

Libel law defines the ways that journalists USE the information they gather in their messages. Again, there are many nuances in libel law and journalists generally defer to the experts within their media organizations when questions arise about whether a particular item in a news story exposes the news organization to a charge of libel. It is most important for you, as an information gatherer, to understand that best practices require you to double- and triple-check any facts, claims or evidence you intend to use in a message and to vet that information with the appropriate gatekeepers in your organization.