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When are media 'ride-alongs' with police allowed?

Media “ride-alongs” are allowed up to the point that law enforcement personnel enter a private residence. In Wilson v. Layne, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 held that police officers executing an arrest warrant violated the Fourth Amendment when they, without the homeowners’ consent, invited a reporter and photographer inside a home to witness the search for a fugitive. While the Court recognized that the inclusion of media representatives in such cases might serve general law enforcement aims, it held that such goals were insufficient to overcome the privacy protections fundamental to the Fourth Amendment.

What rights do journalists have at accident or disaster scenes?

The courts haven't recognized that the news media have any constitutional guarantee of access to any particular scene. However, there are statutory rights in a few states and case law in others that protect press access from unreasonable restriction.

The courts have generally stood behind journalists who act reasonably in trying to get information — but courts have not protected those who blatantly disregard police orders. Courts have recognized under the First Amendment a press privilege to be left alone by the police, so long as the media do not unreasonably interfere with or obstruct police activity or risk their own personal safety. In Connell v. Town of Hudson, for example, a 1990 case in New Hampshire, a federal judge found that a news photographer had a First Amendment right to be at a car-accident scene.

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Last system update: Thursday, August 21, 2008 | 17:55:58
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