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Law Office of Robert J. Ambrogi
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August 2005

Sites Offer Support for Busy Media Lawyers

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Journalists in jail. Record-setting libel verdicts. Secret government documents. Closed-door meetings. The lawyers who represent the news media have had their hands full of late. But one item of good news for media lawyers is that several Web sites offer useful resources and support.

One of the most useful is the site of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free legal assistance to journalists. Its site includes a selection of comprehensive guides to key areas of media law. These detailed, state-by-state legal guides describe the laws covering open meetings and open records, reporters' shields and subpoenas, and tape recording phone calls.

Other RCFP legal guides focus on the First Amendment, the federal Freedom of Information Act, medical privacy under HIPAA, and access to court records. RCFP provides these resources for free, along with daily updates on media law news from throughout the United States.

Another top-notch media law site is the First Amendment Center, a program of the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to supporting free press and free speech. The site provides in-depth coverage of key First Amendment issues and topics, daily First Amendment news, a First Amendment library and guest analyses by respected legal specialists.

The site's coverage extends to a broad range of First Amendment issues, but follow the Press link to zero in on media topics. Here you will find sections devoted to topics that include libel and defamation, prior restraint, shield laws, gag orders, journalist access and privacy. Each section includes FAQs and key cases related to the topic. Recently, the site added a comprehensive section devoted to tracking ongoing cases involving confidential sources.

For lawyers who focus their practices on defending the media, The Media Law Resource Center provides substantial litigation resources. It includes a brief bank, an expert witness directory, and collections of jury instructions and closing arguments. MLRC also publishes daily, monthly and quarterly bulletins on media law news and issues. Access to these resources is restricted to MLRC members, with membership fees starting at $500 for solos.

The Media Center at New York Law School is devoted to the study of telecommunications, media and new media law and policy. Its Web site includes a library of important media-related laws and cases. Recently, the site added a blog devoted to media law and policy.

There are at least two other blogs devoted to media law. One, Media Law, is written by me. The other, Media Law Prof Blog, is written by Christine A. Corcos, associate professor of law at Louisiana State University.

Located at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Minnesota, the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law is directed by Jane E. Kirtley, a highly regarded media lawyer who was formerly executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The Web site provides current and archived issues of the Silha Bulletin, with updates and reports on media law issues. A resources page provides links to amicus briefs, reports and other documents.

For student journalists - in fact, for any journalists - the Student Press Law Center has a good collection of news and resources about student free-press rights. The site includes a "virtual lawyer" that assists visitors in finding answers to media law questions.

Members of the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law include lawyers who represent the print media, the telecommunications industry and the electronic media. The forum's Web site recently added Amicus Central, where members can post information about current appeals and requests for amicus support. The site includes current and archived copies of the section's quarterly periodical, Communications Lawyer. Through this site, visitors can sign up for the forum's e-mail alert.

The Federal Communications Bar Association is an organization of attorneys and other professionals involved in communication law and policy. Together with Indiana University School of Law, it sponsors the Federal Communications Law Journal, with current volumes available through this site.

While not devoted exclusively to media law, several sites are useful for their focus on the protection of free speech, including within the media. They include The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Illinois First Amendment Center, the Free Expression Network, the Free Expression Policy Project, and The Media Coalition.

A common issue faced by media lawyers is access to government information. Useful sites on freedom of information include the American Library Association (follow the link for Issues and Advocacy), the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, the Freedom of Information Center, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, and Public Citizen Freedom of Information Clearinghouse.

The Web sites of media industry organizations often prove to be useful for tracking current cases and legislation of interest to the industry. Sites that include legal news and resources include those of the American Press Institute, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Investigative Reporters and Editors, National Newspaper Association, Newspaper Association of America, Society of Environmental Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists.

Robert J. Ambrogi is a lawyer and media consultant in Rockport, Mass. Web: www.legaline.com. E-mail: ambrogi@legaline.com.


© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.