‘How comfortable are you with risk?’


“How comfortable are you with risk?” was the question posed throughout the Legally Speaking: Answers to Your Ethical Questions workshop.  In a world where reporters are given high tech tools, and the majority of publications post to the internet, how do journalists make sure they are legally within their rights to post content?  Today Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel to the Pennsylvania  NewsMedia Association, and Paula Knudsen, director of legal affairs at the PNA, spoke with journalists about the legal ties associated with their profession.   

One of the big topics covered was the use of drones in photography.  Within Pennsylvania publications can legally use photos and videos obtained by drones so long as the footage is obtained by a third party and there is no payment involved. Within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania commercial enterprises cannot use drones, but bills are in process to change regulations regarding drones.

Another legal issue faced by journalist are expungements.  Those who have sought the expungement of the their criminal records will also try to erase their record’s footprint in the media. Legally, publications do not have to take down past criminal records, and many do not, but there isn’t a single guideline that all news organizations adhere to. “It bothers me when we are not consistent.” said Barbara Hough Roda of the Lancaster Newspapers Inc. From here the argument turns from looking at journalism from a legal aspect to looking at ethical aspects.


Barbara Hough Roda is concerned about the inconsistencies between news organizations concerning removing content from their websites. Photo taken by Emily Schreiber on May 30, 2014.

Melewsky and Knudsen also looked at various hypothetical situations. If someone posts personal information concerning health on a publicly accessible internet page, can a publication use this information?  Yes, because the information is now a part of the public domain.  What if the information is posted on a private social media account?  No, because it is not considered part of the public domain. All of these situations helped further the audience’s understanding of what journalists can reveal about a subject and what they cannot.

The legal aspects of journalism can often be fuzzy. What are you willing to risk?

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