Law & the Media in Texas — Clarification - Bibliography Students & More

Clarification, Explanation, Etc.

Legal Bibliography

The common law depends on the concept that court decisions have the weight of statutory law. Statutory law, which includes rules of procedure in both civil and criminal matters, is passed by the legislature or by Congress.

In researching law look to four sources: constitutions, statutes, decisions of courts and administrative agency rules and regulations.

Decisions in common law are reported in legal reporters, which are law books produced chronologically. Without this aid a researcher would have to search at random. The law is indexed and the cases are reported in two systems, federal and state.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions are found in the Supreme Court reporter (S.Ct.). The Federal Reporter (F. and F. 2d) reports appeals, customs and patent decisions. The Federal Supplement (F.Supp.) has district and customs court rulings.

For state decisions the nation is divided into seven regions. Reporters in each provide the highest court and some appellate court cases. Texas cases are in the South Western (S.W., S.W. 2d and S.W.3d) reporters. Other states listed in South Western are Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.

In citations the first number refers to the volume number, the second to the page number. The term in the middle is the reporter. For example, The New York Times v. Sullivan is at 84 S.Ct. 710, which is volume 84 of the Supreme Court reporter, page 710.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions are available on line from a variety of sources including www.findlaw.com and www.cornelllaw.edu. Texas Supreme Court cases are also available at many on line sources including www.courts.state.tx.us and www.suefaw.home.texas.net.

In Texas, the attorney general’s office provides handbooks on public information and public meetings. They may be obtained by writing or calling the attorney general’s office at Post Office Box 12548, Austin 78711-2548 or 512 463 2100. They are also available on line. The attorney general’s web site is www.oag.state.tx.us

Law and the Student Press

Everything in this book relates to the student press—to high school and college newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations—in the same way that it relates to other media in Texas.

The student newspaper, radio or television station that publishes a defamatory story about someone and does so without a clear defense may find itself involved in an expensive libel action.

What kind of news events are of greatest concern in this regard?

1.Speeches on campus may or may not be privileged. Even if the circumstances make the speech privileged, the newspaper has an obligation to get a response from anyone who is defamed. If everything doesn’t come out right, the student newspaper can be sued.

Who would be the subject of the suit? The students involved in putting out the newspaper, the broad that oversees the newspaper and maybe the college, university or school district itself. Students often think that just because someone says something that is good enough reason for reporting it. That kind of thinking can be disastrous. The same rules that apply to the commercial press apply to the student press in this regard. Whoever relays the message is as responsible as the person doing the talking.

2.What teachers say in classrooms. The concept of academic freedom must allow the teacher great freedom to discuss controversial issues. Just because the teacher says something doesn’t make what was said newsworthy. And, privilege doesn’t extend to the classroom.

3.What people say in interviews. The same conditions that cover the public press cover the student press in this regard. What people tell reporters is not privileged and just because someone says something that isn’t justification for reporting what was said.

4.Actions taken by honor councils, student judiciary and university officials that relate to the conduct of students may not be protected by privilege. This is a complicated area. In some instances in higher education, a way of making these actions privileged can be established by the contract the student has with the university. Absent such protection, however, these actions are extremely risky. Private schools create a particularly difficult problem in reporting actions of this type.

5.Watch especially rumors, perceived satire and derogatory statements of opinion that might appear in columns. Being a student journalist requires a greater sense of responsibility than that assumed by other students. Being a student journalist carries the expectation that the student journalist be fair. The student journalist must not use the position to take care of personal grudges with other students, with faculty or with administrators.

6.What can cause particular problems on campus are references to administrators, faculty members and coaches that have to do with the conduct of their jobs. Students are not free to say anything they want about them. Saying a teacher is a bad teacher is defamatory. Proving it is practically impossible.

Do not use words such as incompetent, unprepared, unprofessional and so on in writing about faculty or staff. All people employed by an educational institution have a right to be treated fairly. They have a right to reply to legitimate charges brought against them. Opinions of students, including student journalists, are not necessarily newsworthy. Also, be careful of statement made about faculty and staff that relate to the conduct of their personal affairs. Under Gertz, a school official may be a public figure on campus but a private individual off.

To summarize: In the event these statements seem restrictive, keep in mind that journalism is journalism wherever it is practiced. The definition of journalism doesn’t take into consideration training or experience. Anybody can put out a newspaper or a newsletter. But, he or she must abide by the same rules as The New York Times, CBS, The Dallas Morning News, KHOU-TV, Texas Monthly, KRLD or any other newspaper, magazine or broadcasting station you can name. Students are not granted privileges and immunities just because they are younger and less experienced.

Student Press Law Center

A wonderful resource for student journalists is the Student Press Law Center, 1815 North Fort Myer Drive, Suite 900, Arlington, Virginia 22209-1817. The telephone is 703 807 1904. The web site is www.splc.org and the e-mail address is splc@splc.org. A quarterly Report is published by the center. Subscriptions are $15.

Additional Information

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas tracks legal issues in Texas and publishes a monthly newsletter. The foundation publishes Texas Freedom of Information Handbook. The foundation has an annual meeting and sponsors other sessions on media issues. Memberships are available at various levels.

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas is at 400 South Record, 6th Floor, Dallas 75202, telephone 214-977-6658. The foundation has a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-580-6651. The foundation’s web site is www.foift.org. Inquiries may be made by e-mail at foift@airmail.net.

A source of information about all aspects of media law is The News Media & The Law, a publication of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. A subscription is $25 a year. Bi-weekly updates are available by mail or by e-mail. The address is 1815 North Fort Myer Drive, Suite 900, Arlington, Virginia 22209, telephone 703 807 2100. The on line site is www.rcfp.org and the e-mail address is rcfp@rcfp.org.

The Texas Press Association and the Texas Daily Newspaper Association publish a handbook on open meetings and records. Their addresses are provided under sponsoring agencies.

The Society of Professional Journalists deals with press issues and publishes a magazine, Quill. Student chapters are organized in many schools. The address is Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, In. 46208. The telephone number is 317 927 800. SPJ has a web site www.spj.org. The e-mail address is spj@spj.org.

The Columbia Journalism Review may be accessed at www.cjr.org. The mailing address is Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027. American Journalism Review is at www.ajr.org. The mailing address is College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park, Md. 20742-7111.

Legal Research on the Internet

Journalists would do well to develop their own lists of sources, including those that can be accessed via the Internet. Here are some on line suggestions:

Texas Law Librarians: http://suefaw.home.texas.net

Texas Office of Court Administration: http://www.courts.state.tx.us

Texas Attorney General’s Office: www.oag.state.tx.us.

Other law sites: www.findlaw.com, www.yale.edu/lawweb, www.law.cornell.edu, Case Western Reserve ftp.cwru.edu, www.kentlaw.edu/lawnet/lawlinks, www.unlv.edu/library , Villanova Center for Information Law and Policy www.law.vill.edu

Administrative Office, U.S. Courts: www.uscourts.gov

Library of Congress: www.loc.gov

New York Public Library: www.nypl.org.

Reporters Committee: www.rcfp.org

Student Press Law Center: www.splc.org

Pew Research Center: www.people-press.org

The Freedom Forum: www.freedomforum.org