What's on the horizon
By Douglas Lee
Special to the First Amendment Center Online

As in most recent years, whether press freedom expands or contracts in 2008 likely will be determined not by a major U.S. Supreme Court decision or by sweeping new laws but instead by how the news media fare in smaller battles in trial courtrooms and legislatures across the country.

Seemingly content with the state of libel, privacy, access to information and reporter’s privilege laws, the Supreme Court has shown little interest in these areas in the last several years, and no press-freedom cases currently are on its docket. While Congress has flirted with a reporter’s shield law and has passed improvements to the Freedom of Information Act, significant new legislation in either area appears unlikely.

The lack of national movement on press freedom issues, however, does not mean press freedom remains static.

To the contrary, state and federal courts across the country almost daily determine the extent to which our courts and other public bodies will be open, apply libel and privacy laws to new and challenging fact patterns and grapple with the increasing number of subpoenas being issued to reporters. State legislatures also frequently face efforts to modify open-records and open-meetings laws.

Realizing that press freedoms will be won or lost in small bites rather than in big gulps, First Amendment advocates in many instances have worked to bring national attention to local or regional issues. Those efforts undoubtedly will continue in 2008, as will the need to monitor the state of press freedom almost daily.

Posted December 2007