Journalist's Guide

Typically, reporters should not worry about who is a public official, public figure or private individual. Presumably, the goal is the same at all times: Get the story right, regardless of who the story is about. Nevertheless, there is a simple test to help determine whether the subject is a limited purpose public figure: (1) Does the person have access to the media to rebut accusations made about them? (2) Has the person become voluntarily associated with the controversy? (3) Did the controversy exist before the media began reporting it? If the answers are yes, the individual is more likely to be a public figure. This stands in contrast to gossip-mongering in a more private neighborly dispute, where speculative accusations should be treated gingerly unless corroborated by additional sources or the police. Invasion of Privacy Generally speaking, the phrase “invasion of privacy” has been defined as the “right to be left alone.” Legally speaking, this tort is broken up into four separate and distinct claims: False Light. This type of invasion of privacy is closely akin to libel, in that it constitutes a cause of action for depicting a person in a false manner. It commonly occurs where a reporter seeks to illustrate a particular event – say, a story about taxicab drivers who charge excessive fees – by showing an innocent driver legally plying his trade. The photo of the driver itself may not falsely state any facts about them, but when coupled with a story about passengers getting ripped off, it falsely links them to the scoundrels in the cab world. Publication of Embarrassing Private Facts. This is a more common – though often more difficult to prove – type of invasion of privacy. It involves publicizing private facts about an individual which would offend an ordinary reader, viewer or listener’s sensibilities. A press report or photograph about an event that occurs in public almost never can form the basis of a successful tort claim, yet many people still sue for it. The press cannot be held liable, for instance, for publishing a photograph of two people kissing (unmarried or married, but not to each other) engaging in a rapturous embrace at a public event. On the other hand, people do have a right not to be photographed (without consent) inside their hospital rooms or other places where they expect privacy. And, people do have a right not to have intimate details about their private life – such as their health, family or financial problems – made known to the community at large unless there is a reasonable basis to make such information public (such as for political candidates). Intrusion. In simple terms, this type of invasion of privacy is akin to trespass. It occurs where one intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the seclusion of another, such as by illegally entering private property or wrongfully using recording or eavesdropping devices to record a person’s private activities or conversations. It is most common where a reporter misrepresents his identity in order to gain access to a place where a member of the general public typically is not invited to go. Misappropriation. In the media field, this is the least prevalent type of invasion of privacy. Generally, the law of misappropriation provides one may not use the name or picture of a person without their consent for advertising or trade purposes. For instance, you cannot sell a new pair of newfangled athletic shoes by showing a picture of former Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis endorsing such shoes unless Lewis has given you permission. In the news context, pictures of


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