Journalist's Guide

Where the crime or disaster scene is not a public place, the law is much less clear. A community’s custom or common practice, to the extent it can be determined, can be relevant to the analysis of whether a journalist may incur liability for a particular newsgathering practice. Maryland law is sparse on the subject of “implied consent by custom and usage;” probably the best source of information on the accepted newsgathering practices in the state will be experienced journalists. Like public places, newsgathering activities in private places may be limited if a law enforcement investigation or other official activity is underway, especially if the media’s activities could realistically compromise the safety of the law enforcement officers and the success of their mission. For example, one federal court has held the media has a duty not to interfere with a law enforcement officer’s official activities and may be found liable for breach of that duty, even if the interference comes in the course of newsgathering. With today’s prevalence of cell phones, police are finding themselves on camera more often than they might like when conducting law enforcement activity. In some prominent cases, police have ordered journalists and other citizens to stop filming, or even confiscated video equipment and arrested the operator, although this action may be of dubious legality. Although the authorities have cited electronic surveillance laws to claim their consent is required before filming, this is not accurate. As long as you are not interfering with police activity, jeopardizing an investigation, or endangering others, you are free to observe, photograph or record police officers working on premises open to the public. Sometimes law enforcement officials permit journalists to accompany them on “ride-alongs” as they conduct searches, investigate crimes, or execute arrests. However, the express consent of law enforcement officials to newsgathering is no guarantee a journalist will escape legal trouble. A few courts have found journalists may be held liable for damages when they enter a private home without the consent of the owners, even if they are on a police-approved “ride-along.” In fact, law enforcement may not legally permit the media to enter a private home when executing search warrants, as the U.S. Supreme Court held the additional intrusion of the media violates the Fourth Amendment protection for criminal suspects against unreasonable searches. Private homes Gathering news in a private home without consent of the owner is an extremely risky proposition. Courts have found the media liable for invasion of privacy, trespass, and intentional infliction of emotional distress both where the journalist used surreptitious means and where they gathered news in plain view but without the consent of the homeowner. When the home is a crime or disaster scene, a journalist may have a greater right to gather news, particularly if the custom of the community dictates or a government official has provided consent. But generally, a journalist can face serious liability if the journalist engages in newsgathering in a private home


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