Speaking at BlogOrlando: Legal Issues Session

BlogOrlando’s Legal Issues session will give us an opportunity to cover some important areas, such as whether bloggers are considered journalists and if so, what legal protections they may have; libel & slander (and the role of satire); how to protect against liability regarding blog comments left by other people, and so on. And if there is time, I’ll also talk about what conflict management approaches, short of using cease and desist letters or initiating other legal action, may be open to bloggers.

In other words, this session will provide basic information that ultimately will help bloggers avoid some mine fields and allow them to focus on what they really enjoy doing — communicating and interacting with our readers and others in the community.

Here’s a brief list of some helpful sites to know about:

And these lists of blogs, compiled by 3L Epiphany, are also good information sources and commentary to keep on hand:

 


The U.S. Federal Government Posts 9/11 Trial Exhibits Online

In a historical move, the U.S. federal government yesterday provided online access to 1,195 of the 1,202 exhibits admitted into evidence during the trial of U.S. v. Moussaoui (United States v. Zacarias Moussaoui, Criminal No. 01-455-A), making this the first time a federal court has done so in a criminal case.

The exhibits offer insight into one of the most important legal cases of modern history, and their emotional impact can’t be overestimated (the exhibits include actual 9/11 video footage and recorded calls, a collection of photos of the victims, as well as graphic photos of bodies found inside the Pentagon after Flight 77 crashed into it).

As explained in the overview, the exhibits are organized first by the party seeking their admission (Prosecution Trial Exhibits are available here and Defense Trial Exhibits are available here), second by the phase of the trial in which they were introduced (Phase One concerned Moussaoui’s eligibility for the death penalty, and Phase Two concerned whether he would be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release), and third, by exhibit number.

 


The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse Accuses McDonald’s of Hiring Convicted Sex Offenders

The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse (NFPCSA) is calling for a boycott of McDonald’s restaurants after Nashville station NewsChannel 5 WTVF uncovered that nationwide, McDonald’s restaurants have hired “dozens” of convicted sex offenders.

According to the WTVF report, “McDonald’s says it has a policy against hiring sex offenders at its 8,000 or so company owned stores. But at the 18,000 franchise stores that operate under the golden arches, they’re free to hire anyone they want.”

WTVF’s investigation revealed nine sex offenders in Delaware, thirteen in Indiana and sixteen in Louisiana working in McDonald’s restaurants. But, unfortunately:

“We can’t tell you how many other child molesters or other sex offenders are working at McDonald’s restaurants here in Tennessee or anywhere else. That’s because in most states, including Tennessee, sex offender registries don’t have information about employers. So the public can’t find out — until something bad happens.”

No response yet on McDonald’s Corporate site.

 


Animal Legal Defense Fund Releases Ranking of State Animal Protection Laws

Earlier this year the Animal Legal Defense Fund released a 3-page report ranking all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia based on the strength and comprehensiveness of their state anti-cruelty laws.

Although ALDF makes it clear that all the states’ laws need to be strengthened, the states that ranked best were California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Oregon, while those that ranked worst were Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota and Utah.

The latter five states fell into the worst category because, among other things, they either did not have any felony anti-cruelty provisions or because, in the case of Kentucky, felony provisions applied only to select situations.

ALDF also provides a list of Jurisdictions with Felony Animal Abuse Provisions and the year of enactment.

By way of quick definition, a felony is “a crime sufficiently serious to be punishable by death or a term in state or federal prison… [or] a crime carrying a minimum term of one year or more in state prison,” [note: given the legal status of animals, whether wild or designated as “property,” the death penalty has never been, not is unlikely ever to be, imposed in any animal cruelty case], while a  misdemeanor is “a lesser crime punishable by a fine and/or county jail time for up to one year… [and]are tried in the lowest local court such as municipal, police or justice courts.”


Gary Goldhammer Comments On The Zacarias Moussaoui Verdict

Gary Goldhammer wrote a thought-provoking post about the Zacarias Moussaoui verdict. Gary isn’t just your ordinary blogger writing about what is undoubtedly one of the most high-profile death penalty trials in United States history. He’s also the author of Dead End, a 1994 book that examines the financial and human costs of the death penalty.

For anyone who wants to learn more about the death penalty and how it is administered in the U.S., go to Pro-death penalty.com and the Death Penalty Information Center.

Here are some quick links of interest:

And to test your knowledge about the death penalty, follow this link to DPIC’s 10-question Death Penalty Quiz.


With Canada’s Seal Hunt Less Than Two Days Away, Rhetoric Is In Overdrive

As the countdown ticker on the Humane Society of the United States site shows, Canada’s infamous yearly seal hunt — this year permitting the killing of 325,000 young seals — is less that two days away (at the time of this writing, 1 day and 19 hours).

With both supporters and opponents of the hunt preparing for the international media attention this event attracts, rhetoric is in overdrive.

From the Fisheries and Oceans Canada site:

  • The Seal Hunt Management Plan’s objectives are to “ensure conservation and sustainability, long-term sustainable use, humane hunting practices, and encourage fullest use of hunted seals.”
  • “The commercial seal hunt in Atlantic Canada in 2005 was the source of more than $16.5 million in direct revenue from the sale of product – virtually the same as in 2004, and up from an estimated $13 million value in 2003.”
  • “The seal harvest in Atlantic Canada has been directed at beater pelt sales (independent harp seals between 25 days and 13 months of age).  The primary market is for beater pelts, which can fetch up to $70 each in strong markets.”
  • “The hunting methods presently used were studied by the Royal Commission on Seals and Sealing in Canada and they found that the clubbing of seals, when properly performed is at least as humane as, and often more humane than, the killing methods used in commercial slaughterhouses, which are accepted by the majority of the public.”
  • “Methods used to kill seals in Canada were found to be generally more humane than the shooting of animals for sport. The Commission also found that no methods of killing which have come to their notice, other than clubbing or shooting, achieve acceptable standards of humaneness.”

Additional statements from a recent CBS News article:

  • “…the reality is that whitecoats can’t be hunted anymore. But it’s also true that young harp seals lose their white coats (and their protection) at about 12 to 14 days of age. After that, they’re fair game for hunters, although they’re usually about 25 days old before they’re hunted. Most harp seals taken are under the age of three months. Young yes, whitecoats no.”
  • “A 2002 report in the Canadian Veterinary Journal found that ‘the large majority of seals taken during this hunt … are killed in an acceptably humane manner.’ This study found that 98 per cent of hunted seals it examined had been killed properly. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cites this study among others as proof that the hunt opponents are wrong in their accusations of widespread cruelty. And regarding the ‘skinning alive’ charge, the DFO says appearances can be deceiving. ‘Sometimes a seal may appear to be moving after it has been killed,’ the DFO says. ‘However, seals have a swimming reflex that is active, even after death. This reflex falsely appears as though the animal is still alive when it is clearly dead – similar to the reflex in chickens.’ “
  • According to the DFO, “the club, or ‘hakapik,’ used by many sealers is ‘an efficient tool’ that kills ‘quickly and humanely.’ “
  • “The federal government acknowledges that it has laid more than 200 charges against sealers since 1996, but argues that shows it’s serious about enforcing its regulations.”

And finally, from the Humane Society of the United States, a video and slide show (scroll midway down page to find). Despite the pictures of whitecoats intended to pull at everyone’s heartstrings, these images speak volumes.


How Celebrities Frame Their Public Image Through Fake Paparazzi Journalism

The public’s obsession with celebrities seems to know no bounds.

Magazines such as the National Enquirer and Star, television and cable programs such as Access Hollywood and E! Entertainment, and the seemingly infinite number of celebrity-focused blogs, keep churning out the latest and greatest about the hottest celebrities around.

The Economist (premium content, subscription required) describes the coverage this way:

Half-a-dozen publications now use exclamation marks on their covers to describe the divorces, pregnancies, affairs, eating disorders and assorted depravities of the same small group of celebrities — notably Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, …Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Jennifer Aniston and, most important, Angelina Jolie and her “bump”.

The formula for filling out the rest of these publications has been standardised: spotting cellulite, tracking breast augmentation and all around liposuction; a smattering of scoops bought from gossipy make-up artists and bouncers, etc; and a bit of slavish grovelling in the “exclusive interview.”

What’s generally not known is that celebrities are starting to take back control of their public image. As reported today in The Wall Street Journal (Caught in the Act! subscription required):

It has always been a relationship built upon animosity and mutual need. But tensions have grown with the explosion of media running paparazzi photos of stars canoodling and emerging from coffee shops in frumpy track suits.

Now stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie and Jessica Simpson are fighting back. They are hiring their own photographers to capture supposedly private rendezvous, tipping off reporters to their whereabouts and developing relationships of mutual back-scratching with magazine editors.

The result is the flowering of a genre: fake paparazzi journalism, or the staging of “unstaged” moments….

Stars get to participate in the framing of their image and magazines appear to give readers a glimpse of the real celebrity untouched by public-relations varnish….

A new generation of “stalkarazzi” has specialized in capturing awkward moments….

The photographers’ onslaught has put stars in a tough spot. If they ignore the magazines, they let such pictures define their public image. But sitting down for formulaic interviews and staged publicity shots won’t necessarily satisfy the magazines’ lust for juicy stories.

The answer is manipulation so subtle it’s hard to say if there’s any manipulation at all….

“I would say at least 50% of what you see in terms of Hollywood coverage is something that was not necessarily born organically, ” says Janice Min, editor in chief of US Weekly. “This is a totally symbiotic relationship. This is how celebrities survive.”

According to the Journal, examples of such images include the picture of Gwyneth Paltrow emerging from a London hospital after giving birth to daughter Apple, the photograph taken in Haiti of Angelina Jolie’s expanding belly, and Tom Cruise arriving at the Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills with previously unknown girlfriend Katie Holmes.


Journalist Chose Fairness Over Objectivity

C-SPAN recently broadcast Personal Recollections of the Civil Rights Movement, which offered a fascinating look at the experiences of journalists who lived through that tumultuous era. Panelists included Chuck Conconi, Helen Thomas, Jack Nelson, Carl Stern and Barbara Reynolds.

A comment made by Chuck Conconi (now Editor At Large of Washingtonian Magazine, but back then a journalist with the Washington Post) stood out for its unapologetic honesty. Speaking about his coverage of the movement, Conconi said,

“I could be fair in my reporting, but I couldn’t be objective.”



Profile in Courage: Journalist Mohammed al-Asaadi

When ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were injured in Iraq on January 29, the American media held vigil. The story received extensive coverage, possibly because Woodruff and Vogt are two of its own.

Commenting on the attention, American University profession Kathryn Montgomery said, “when you see the kind of coverage this story is getting it draws attention to the lack of coverage that hundreds of cases don’t get.” According to UPI, for example, the same week that Woodruff and Vogt were injured, 10 American service members were killed in Iraq.

While Woodruff and Vogt should be commended for their willingness to report from a war zone, especially in light of the number of journalists injured and killed during conflicts, there is another journalist sitting in a jail in Yemen who deserves our attention as well.

On February 11, Mohammed al-Asaadi, the editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer, a weekly English-language newspaper, was arrested and charged with insulting the Prophet Muhammad. According to MSNBC:

…when his newspaper ran an article about the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, Asaadi decided to reprint the cartoons—albeit with a large X censoring most of them, and an article denouncing them….he was arrested and charged with insulting the Prophet.

Reporters Without Borders immediately requested the release of Asaadi and five other journalists who are currently in prison for having printed the now infamous cartoons.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Asaadi conducted by Newsweek’s Rod Nordland:

This is a different sort of case…Tell us how it came about.
When we ran our article on the Danish cartoons, it was all about how the Prophet should be honored, with quotations from famous people about what an important figure he was, and a news story on Yemeni protests. We reprinted the cartoons but blacked them out. Unfortunately by an innocent mistake in the production process, a thumbnail of the cartoons appeared on the front page—only 1.5cm [0.6 of an inch] by 2cm [0.8 of an inch], you could hardly read it. But then one of the directors of [the newspaper] al-Akhbar al Yawn approached the Yemen Observer owners to blackmail us—that unless we paid them they would raise a stink. We refused, and they collected signatures on a petition that they presented to the prosecutor. Theirs is a newspaper that lives by blackmail, everybody knows that.  But the government responded by revoking our license to publish and putting me in jail.

Do you regret now the decision to run the cartoons, however censored, given the climate?  There are plenty of religious fanatics in Yemen, even if they’re a minority.
We had a meeting to discuss this before we published them, so it wasn’t an accident.  And we felt that these cartoons had already been shown on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya [satellite TV] and millions of Muslims had seen them.  And I personally believe these cartoons should be published.  If we make it unlawful to look at them, we give them an importance they don’t deserve, as if there’s something holy or special about them. We should be able to discuss them openly, which is what we did.

The article as a whole discussed Islam and particularly the Prophet in reverential tones.  So why the government reaction?
Most of these extremists don’t read English, they just saw the pictures. And the article was accompanied by an editorial, saying the cartoons were terrible, but we should accept the apologies of the newspaper that published them and move on, not continue running through the streets.  That’s what really angered the [government] hard-liners.  Even religious scholars have supported us: it’s the intention behind the publication, not just the publication.