Journalist's Guide

without the owner’s consent or, even worse, after the owner has expressed a desire for the journalist to leave.

Public institutions Journalists are not entirely free to gather news in public and private mental health facilities, drug treatment centers, schools, etc., without consent. Though the subject of a report will rarely succeed on an invasion of privacy claim, successful trespass claims by the owner or protector of the institution are more common. Restaurants and bars Bars and restaurants are, of course, open to the public, and journalists are traditionally granted the same freedom as ordinary citizens to enter the public areas of such businesses. However, this freedom does not mean journalists may do as they please in the name of newsgathering. If a journalist ignores a patron’s objection to the newsgathering, that journalist may be subjected to liability just as if they had entered a private home. In addition, reporters have not been immune when gathering news in the private parts of otherwise public businesses. In other words, a restaurant kitchen is likely off-limits without the owner’s consent. Other private businesses The public areas of other private businesses are generally considered open to the media as well. Nonetheless, some businesses may object to the use of video cameras on their premises and, unlike public buildings, their owners do have the right to exclude them. As a practical matter, it is often easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. In most cases, journalists may safely assume they may access areas other private citizens may freely enter. However, those who gather private facts about individuals or recount private activities may nonetheless be subject to invasion of privacy claims. In private parts of private businesses, the media’s liability for newsgathering may vary depending on the means by which the journalist gained access, the methods used to gather news, the sensitivity of the material obtained, or countless other factors. Generally, journalists using either hidden cameras or ambush tactics risk trespass and possibly fraud lawsuits, and if the material obtained and published is highly personal or offensive, the journalist flirts with liability for invasion of privacy. Such tactics should be used only if more traditional newsgathering techniques are unavailable or impractical. Misrepresentation and Impersonation For journalists, whose livelihood depends on gaining access to places they are not welcome and information not meant for their eyes, a little bit of trickery is a useful tool of the trade. Fortunately, the legal system recognizes this and gives journalists some leeway in the name of the First Amendment.


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