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Future media lawyers dig deep into press freedom and practical application of the law


The first week of SPLC's inaugural Summer Media Law & Policy Institute has flown by! The week has been filled with guest speakers, informative lectures, interactive exercises and great discussions. With our diverse group of 18 dynamic law students and motivated undergraduates, we've explored key frameworks of the First Amendment and press freedom, discussed the role of media lawyers, and highlighted the way that media lawyers interact with journalists.

Through discussions with media lawyers Drew Shenkmen (CNN) and Nabiha Syed (The Markup), plus former editor Jane Eisner and recently retired director of Standards and Practice Steven Holmes (CNN), we analyzed the challenges of trust and ethics between journalists and lawyers, and the importance of diverse viewpoints and perspectives.

Students did practical "if you were the lawyer" exercises too. After a conversation with Carrie DeCell of the Knight Columbia First Amendment Institute and Frank LoMonte from the Brechner Center on Freedom of Information, students debated the Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump case (regarding the ability of the President to block Twitter followers).

"I love the opportunity to practice skills I’ve learned," participant Austin Vining said. "In law school and other classes, we hear about things like prepublication review, but this Institute was the first time I’ve been given an article and asked to vet it and then discuss with a group. These type of practical exercises have helped show me that I can apply the media law knowledge I have and make me more excited about my future career as a media lawyer. "

Stay tuned for more, we'll be updating you with highlights from each week, including the moot court competition at the end of the Institute.
Learn more about the Institute

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Guide to covering protests

If you're covering protests in your community, be sure to read our guide before you head out. You'll find twenty tips for staying safe while covering protests, reminders of your legal rights, advice for identifying yourself as media to police and more.
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Q: Our publication has posted online photos of police brutality protests in our city, and we are receiving requests from politically active students to blur the faces of protesters who can be identified in the photos. Are we legally required to blur these photos or to refrain from publishing photos of protesters in the future when their faces are visible?

A: Legally, if the protesters were in a public place when you took these photos, they have a severely minimized expectation of privacy and you are within your rights to publish photos showing their faces. Just as they have the right to protest in public, you have the right to document their actions. 

There is some debate among journalists, however, over the ethics of showing faces of protestors. Although people who participate in protests and other public events do so knowing they are taking the risk of being identified, journalists should always be mindful of the duty to minimize harm. It is important to realize that there are legitimate concerns that some populations have when it comes to being identified in photos like these. Consider what your goal is in your coverage and what sorts of photos you will need to accomplish that goal. Do you need to use up close photos, or will a zoomed out shot accomplish what you are seeking?

It may be helpful to come up with a policy as a staff about how to document these kinds of protests and stick to that as you move forward. 

For more about your rights while covering protests, check out our full guide.

See previous Ask SPLC answers

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