Policy Updates

October 19, 2021

Judge Orders the Unsealing of Information in State AG Case Against Google

On October 15, Judge P. Kevin Castel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the release of a partially unsealed version of the State Attorneys General complaint against Google. The second amended complaint, filed by the state AGs in early September, included redacted parts related to Google’s advertising business, Google’s deal with Facebook, and certain names and email addresses. These redactions were done according to Google’s confidentiality designations. The court’s latest order found that while some of the redactions were appropriate, many were not and must be included in a new version of the complaint to be released by October 22. In September, the Alliance joined an amicus brief by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press urging the court to unseal the information contained in the complaint. According to the court, certain details about the engineering of Google’s “predictive modeling” process as well as the names and emails of individual employees should remain redacted, while other parts, including those related to Google’s revenue, commissions, market share, and agreement with Facebook should be unsealed. The suit led by Texas focuses on Google’s anticompetitive behavior in the ad tech ecosystem. Read more about the case here.

October 18, 2021

Federal, State Agencies File an Amicus Brief Opposing a Sweeping Interpretation of Section 230

On October 14, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and North Carolina Department of Justice filed a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the case of Henderson v. The Source for Public Data, L.P. The case concerns a background check company which allegedly violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by including inaccurate criminal information in background check reports compiled from public sources. In response, the defendant argued that it was an “interactive computer service” and since the information was gathered from public sources, it was immune from all liability under the FCRA due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 provides online platforms with broad immunities for third-party content they publish. The District Court found for the defendant and the case is currently on appeal with the Fourth Circuit. The amicus brief supports the plaintiffs, arguing that the court’s decision “misconstrues Section 230 by extending immunity to claims that do not seek to treat the defendant as the publisher or speaker of any third-party information.” In a statement, FTC Chair Lina M. Khan and CFPB Director Rohit Chopra expressed concerns over efforts undermine fair competition by circumventing consumer and banking laws by using Section 230. Read more here and the amicus brief here.

Senate Leaders to Introduce an Antitrust Bill to Rein in Online Platforms

On October 14, a bipartisan group of Senators, led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chair of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, announced that they would be introducing the American Innovation and Choice Online Act next week to rein in the anticompetitive behavior of the dominant online platforms. The bill, similar to the bill introduced in the House by Reps. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Ken Buck (R-CO) and marked up by the House Judiciary Committee in June, aims to prevent the online platforms from self-preferencing their own products and services while discriminating against others in the digital ecosystem. The bill would prohibit platforms from abusing their gatekeeper status “in a manner that would material harm competition on the platform,” in addition to prohibiting other specific harmful behaviors, and providing antitrust enforcers strong tools to combat violations. In addition to Senators Klobuchar and Grassley, the bill’s original co-sponsors will include Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Kennedy (R-LA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Josh Hawley (R-MO). Read more about the bill here.

Copyright Office Publishers an Ancillary Copyright Study NOI

On October 12, the United States Copyright Office published a Notice of Inquiry regarding its long-awaited study on ancillary copyright protections for publishers. The study will focus on the effectiveness of existing protections for news content online, including under the Copyright Act, as well as whether the United States should create additional protections for news content and what the scope of any such new protections should be. It follows a request from Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) in response to international developments in the European Union and Australia. The European Union adopted an ancillary copyright for news publishers in 2019, allowing news publishers to better protect their content online and negotiate for payments with the online platforms, while Australia introduced its media bargaining code earlier this year. The notice sets out multiple questions of particular interest to the Office and requests comments from interested stakeholders by November 26. The Office is also planning to conduct a public roundtable on December 9, with the requests to participate due by November 12. Read more about the study here.

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October 15, 2021

Alliance joins letter supporting journalists’ access

On October 11, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) sent a letter to the Mayor and City Attorney of Medford Oregon, demanding they drop  charges against journalist April Ehrlich. While local police officers were disbanding a homeless encampment on public land, a police officer arrested Ms. Ehrlich after she wouldn’t stay in a designated media area.  The designated media area was so far away from the encampment that Ms. Ehrlich couldn’t properly report on it. The Alliance joined RCFP’s brief supporting Ms. Ehrlich’s right to report on matters of public concern and demanding that any charges against her be dropped. “The City has an affirmative obligation to afford opportunities to document police operations even when access to the land is otherwise restricted… And a constitutionally adequate opportunity to observe the work entails both sight and sound access for reporters working in different media.”

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October 14, 2021

California passes tax exemption for newspapers

AB 1506—a California Bill that would extend a tax emption for newspapers until 2025—passed both houses of the California legislature. The Bill has been sent to Governor Newsom to sign. The Bill has certain reporting requirements for those claiming the exemption, like providing specific information about their workforce every year. Passing AB 1506 is a great step towards protecting the future of print journalism and preserving quality reporting.

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October 11, 2021

California Law gives journalists better access to police records

On October 9, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB-98 “Public peace: media access” into law. The Bill prohibits law enforcement from restricting journalists’ access to closed-off protests. If a journalists is in an otherwise-restricted area, they cannot be punished for being there. While the Bill gives the journalist immediate appeal power, it does not impose criminal liability on the offending officer. The Bill will now give journalists access to areas typically restricted, allowing them to accurately report and inform the public about critical protests and movements in California. Read more. 

October 7, 2021

Alliance joins in Amicus Brief Advocating for Access to Police Misconduct Investigation

On September 24, The Alliance joined the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press in an amicus brief seeking records from the Seattle Police Department. The Seattle Police Department is investigating six police officers for their potential involvement in the January 6th Capitol riot. The officers, whose identities are currently concealed, moved to seal the records because there is no legitimate public interest in the investigation unless the allegations are substantiated. The brief argues that the records “will enable the news media to meaningfully report on the results of the OPA’s investigation, thus allowing the public to evaluate the effectiveness of the investigatory process, the evidence collected, and the reasoning behind the OPA’s conclusions.” The Alliance continues to advocate for journalists’ access to public records in order to foster government accountability and transparency.

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September 20, 2021

Alliance Joins Letter Advocating for Afghan Refugees P-2 Status

On September 20, the Alliance signed onto a letter with other US news organizations urging President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Secretary Mayorkas to expedite processing P-2 applications for Afghan evacuees. This process is crucial for Afghan families and individuals to find work and rebuild their lives. The letter explains that the P-2 program is best suited for Afghan refugees—not the asylum claim and filing process that the State Department told the New York Times they would begin using for Afghans currently in the United States. The government should clarify the application process, support the ongoing evacuation process, and prioritize the safety and long term stability of Afghan evacuees.

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August 26, 2021

Russia Further Restricts Free Press

On August 20, Russia labeled two more news agencies as “foreign agents.” This requires them to label all stories and social media posts as foreign agent and subjects them to increased audits. It is speculated that Russia’s recent crackdown on the free press is an effort to restrict and control the news ahead of parliamentary elections next month. Read more.

Taliban Continues Oppressing Press

As the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, citizens have faced increasing danger amid the chaos. Journalists have been particularly at risk. The Taliban has removed two female journalists from their positions at a broadcasting station and beaten at least two other journalists. In an interview with the International Center for Journalists, Afghan journalist Sami Mahdi said the Taliban has not changed, only gotten better at PR and technology as he faces the stifling of expression. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is to report back to the U.N. about the Taliban’s actions in the September-October session. Read more.

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August 18, 2021

DOJ Formally Adopts Policy to Protect Press

On July 19, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it formally adopted a new policy restricting the use of a compulsory process to obtain information from or records of journalists acting within the scope of their work. Attorney General Merrick Garland expressed that he wants these changes to be durable and directed the Deputy Attorney General to begin the process necessary to codify the policy into DOJ regulations. Read more.

Taliban Allows Media, if they Promote Taliban’s Values

On August 17, the Taliban hosted a press conference addressing citizens’ concerns. In addressing the role of the media, they said the media is important and they welcome the media to critique their work. However, they emphasized that the media should not go against Islamic values, should not promote bad values, and should work only for the unity of Afghanistan. They also said they are committed to the rights of women, but only so far as Sharia rules allow.

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August 16, 2021

Afghan Journalists in Danger, Need Short and Long Term Solutions

On August 16, freelancers, stringers, and other comparable arrangements were added to the “employee” definition to qualify for Priority-2 U.S. Refugee Admission from Afghanistan, following a letter from over 20 news organizations, including the Alliance. This expansion is a pivotal response to the chaos in Afghanistan, as the Taliban takes over Kabul and specifically targets journalists with particular aggression towards female journalists. The safety of these journalists, as well as their ability to operate without danger in neighboring countries is the immediate concern. As for a long term solution, the Special Immigrant Visas should contain a specific media carveout in order to protect foreign journalists and allow them to relocate to the United States. While the timing and costs of these solutions remain at issue, ensuring the safety of the many endangered journalists is the predominant priority. Read more.

Nicaraguan Police Arrest Journalist

On August 14, Nicaraguan officials arrested the manager of La Presna—a newspaper that was critical of the Nicaraguan government, calling the president a “dictator” among other criticisms. This arrest came after the police raided La Presna’s office and charged its directors with fraud. This isn’t the first time the newspaper has faced backlash, as the government had impounded its ink and paper, forcing it to only publish digitally. The Police claimed these arrests were only related to claims of fraud and money laundering. Read more.

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August 11, 2021

NSA Launches Internal Investigation into Claims it Monitored the Press

On August 10, the NSA’s internal watchdog said it will investigate allegations that they were targeting and improperly surveilling a member of the press. Tucker Carlson accused the NSA of spying on him after he was allegedly contacted by a whistleblower, in an effort to force him off the air. The NSA denied those allegations, but still launched an internal investigation to ensure no found play. Read more.

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