Free Press & Fair Trials
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Describes the conflict between the Constitutional rights to a free press & a free trial. Discusses over-the-top press coverage of sensational cases, focuses on the conflict that sometimes arises when a reporter is required to testify.... More...
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Describes the conflict between the Constitutional rights to a free press & a free trial. Discusses over-the-top press coverage of sensational cases, focuses on the conflict that sometimes arises when a reporter is required to testify.
Freedom of the Press is embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and the courts give great importance to this doctrine when weighing competing rights. However, another vitally important right is the right to a fair trial, and more and more, courts are being asked to consider which of these rights takes precedence in different cases. The press frenzy around recent major cases such as that of O.J. Simpson, the Unabomber, and the Oklahoma City bombing raised questions in the public about the ethics of the press in covering these trials. This is not a new issue, and forty years ago the excessive coverage of the first Sam Sheppard murder trial led to a reversal of his conviction and public censure of the press. In determining when press freedoms might impinge on such other cherished freedoms as the right to a fair trial, courts examine press
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The ethics of Farber were to be tested by what happened next, for hewas subpoenaed by the defense: "The immediate problem was not Farber'sadmitted reluctance to appear as a witness for Dr. Jascalevich--though itwas clear from the start that The Times would fight the subpoena if itrequired their reporter to give totally unrestricted testimony" (Zerman1 3). FCC (395 U.S. Works CitedBoylan, James. A case inpoint emerged recently when Judge John Feikens ordered Business Week not topublish a story containing information filed under seal as part of thecourt record in Procter & Gamble Company's lawsuit against Bankers TrustNew York Corporation. One of the protections accorded the pressis protection from compulsion to print. The Court said: . The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. Twenty years ago, a case came to light that brought issues of freedomof the press into sharp relief as the courts began to grapple withquestions of when certain information could or could not be published. New York: Thomas Y. Simpson, theUnabomber, and the Oklahoma City bombing raised questions in the publicabout the ethics of the press in covering these trials. These and other cases show some of the dimensions of the law asapplied to the publication of information by the news media when courtissues are involved. Thirteen deathswere involved when the hospital went to the Bergen County prosecutor to askfor an investigation directed at the chief surgeon. The investigation expired from lackof evidence. The courts are being asked more and more toprotect the rights of defendants by curtailing press access and the rightto print all information. We hold that it does not."At the same time, there were suggestions in this decision that reportersshould be and would be protected under other circumstances. The court stated that requiring anewspaper to publish one story as opposed to another was anunconstitutional interference with the rights of editors to determine thecontent of their newspapers (Hall 811). In Red Lion BroadcastingCo. The protections accorded the print media derive from the samerationale--the media is seen as standing in for the public, bringing newsof public events and events of public import, with reporters able to gowhere needed to get the story for the people as a whole. Farber,who had received a letter detailing the charges some months before. Crowell, 1986. . Dr. Jascalevich was brought to trial based on evidenceunearthed at this time (Zerman 92-1 3). Ten years later, in June 1975, an article in the New YorkTimes brought the story to light and charged that there had been a criminalDoctor X at Riverdell Hospital. This is not a newissue, and forty years ago the excessive coverage of the first Sam Sheppardmurder trial led to a reversal of his conviction and public censure of thepress. The issue was not over, however, as the court then subpoenaed variousmaterials from Farber, including "all notes of interviews, memoranda,pictures, recordings, and other writings related to a list of 193 potentialwitnesses for the Jascalevich trial" (Zerman 1 8). It wasfeared that these deaths might be homicides, with some hospital workeracting as an Angel of Death by killing some patients. Hayes (4 8 U.S. Tornillo (418 U.S. However, another vitally important right is theright to a fair trial, and more and more, courts are being asked toconsider which of these rights takes precedence in different cases. . "Journalists' Loosening Grip On the Public's Trust." The Christian Science Monitor (March 21, 1997), 18.Zerman, Melvyn Bernard. v. Farber and hisnewspaper fought this subpoena. In the case of Miami HeraldPublishing Co. This can be a delicate balancing act for all concerned. Thepress frenzy around recent major cases such as that of O.J. New York: Oxford, 1992.Mikkelsen, Randall. The story was written by Myron A. Taking on the Press. In deciding how topursue a story, reporters must consider what is ethical and what is not.The behavior of the courts also raise ethical issues as efforts are made bysome to stifle the press. It took years, and many days spent in jail for contempt, before there was a truce, with prosecutors agreeing to demand sources only when there were no reasonable alternatives (Boylan, 1997). In determining when press freedoms might impinge on such othercherished freedoms as the right to a fair trial, courts examine pressbehavior and determine what is legal and what is not. "Judge Erred in Business Week Order, Appeals Court Rules." Reuters (March 5, 1996).Schorr, Daniel. Court of Appeals for the SixthCircuit, ruled this as unconstitutional and said it should never have beenentered (Mikkelsen, Reuters News Service). "The Public Passes Some Tough Judgments on Libel, Fairness, and 'Fraud.'" Columbia Journalism Review (March, 1997).Hall, K.L. Once Myron Farber was propelled beyond a newsman's traditional role as observer and became a participant in the matter at hand, the clash between the Sixth Amendment and the First in the trial of Doctor X became as inexorable as combat between two armies blindly advancing upon each other (Zerman 1 4).In this case, the Sixth Amendment won over the First when the court ruledthat Farber had to testify and that he could not report on the trial. Yet, he was the man who knew the most about the case and so theman assigned to cover it for the newspaper: It is the Sixth Amendment that guarantees a defendant the right to a fair trial. Thecase calls to mind several that have occurred since as deaths at RiverdellHospital in New Jersey in 1966 were thought to be suspicious. The issue of the First versus the Sixth Amendments has been raisedseveral times since the Branzburg decision, often around the same questionof whether a reporter can maintain confidentiality when subpoenaed by acourt. Freedom of the Press is embodied in the First Amendment to theConstitution, and the courts give great importance to this doctrine whenweighing competing rights. The Constitution protects the news media from government intrusion asa way of assuring independence. The broadcast media has beentreated somewhat differently because the airwaves are considered a finiteresource so that broadcasters are licensed, as newspapers are not. 367 ) the Court permitted the FCC to requirebroadcasters to provide time to relpy to persons attacked during thediscussion of a controversial issue, though this was similar to theregulation struck down for newspapers in the Miami case. Just as it hasbeen established that the courts cannot force the media to publish stories,so has it been established that the courts can prevent the media frompublishing stories only under the most extreme circumstances. The contents of thelatter's locker were seized, and the surgeon's voluntary deposition had himdenying any criminal activity at all. 241 ), the Supreme Court struckdown a law from Florida that required newspapers to publish replies tocriticism about political candidates. The courts try to balance the rights of a free presswith the rights of defendants for a fair trial. Therefore, those chosen by the government to receive broadcast licenses must act as fiduciaries for the public, and permit diverse views on public issues (Hall 812). Farberinvestigated for six months to get the details of the originalinvestigation, and his interest spurred the current county prosecutors tore-open the case. The news media has theethical responsibility to bring all the news possible to the public whileat the same time adhering to certain laws, rules, and moral precepts in hownews is gathered. The problem was that if Farber had to be a witness, the rules saidhe had to be sequestered until he testified, meaning he could not be in thecourtroom. The decision was written by Justice White:"The issue in these cases is whether requiring newsmen to appear andtestify before state or federal grand juries abridges the freedom of speechand press guaranteed by the First Amendment. The judge issued a permanent injunction against themagazine, but an appeals court, the U.S. Thevery fact that the Court tolerates a licensing system for broadcastersshows that the Court views broadcasting as a special form of press, onewhere some regulation is necessary and allowable. no person could have a constitutional right to communicate through broadcasting since the electromagnetic spectrum could not accommodate everyone. A case that was important in this issuewas Branzburg v. The issue has been raised recently in circumstances in which thepress is seen as both intrusive and unethical by much of the public.Though the press privilege has been supported by most courts, journalistsare still concerned about what might happen in the future: But the privilege accorded to the press depends on public support, and will wither without public support. The public today senses an abuse of privilege for profit and self- aggrandizement when a Richard Jewell is falsely named as a prime suspect in the Atlanta bombing case, or when a Dallas newspaper reports a purported confession in the Oklahoma City bombing, which may have been a hoax (Schorr 18). v. The court heldthat journalists were entitled to "some protection for seeking out thenews," though it took a narrow view of that protection: The court ruled that reporters could not use a First Amendment plea to excuse themselves from revealing the identity of sources to courts and grand juries. 665 ), actually a collection ofthree cases decided at once.
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