What is Media Law?
Media law is an area of the law which covers media communications of all sorts and sizes. Specialists in this field may work for individual companies, handling legal issues which come up in the course of doing business. They can also work for organizations which provide advocacy to people who run afoul of the law, or have private practices with consulting services and other forms of legal assistance available to clients. In order to become a media lawyer, it is necessary to attend law school and complete a concentration in media law, an option which is not offered at all law schools.
There are three general areas of interest within media law. The first is print media, including newspapers, magazines, print advertising and so forth. The second is telecommunications, including radio and television broadcasting. Finally, digital communications and the Internet are a broad field within media law, and as the Internet evolves, this frontier is constantly changing.
Media lawyers handle topics such as defamation, slander, and the right to privacy. They discuss whether or not activities are legal, what modifications might need to be made to make something legal, and how to defend people engaging in controversial activities. Media lawyers can specialize in things like assisting citizen journalists, protecting journalistic sources, defending copyrights and intellectual property, and determining where the boundaries of fair use lie. Advocacy organizations are especially interested in protecting people online and helping individuals resist questionable legal tactics which might be used by larger organizations and companies which are unhappy with their activities.
Many nations have a number of laws which pertain to media, and these laws are often in flux as nations attempt to deal with changing technology and norms. A career in media law requires keeping abreast of legislative changes as well as tracking court cases related to media law which might set precedents or clarify the law. Even work in traditional fields like newspapers is evolving rapidly, and a good legal department needs to have staff who are familiar with the latest in the field.
Some media lawyers may spend much of their time in the office, drafting contracts and briefs, doing research, and acting as consultants. Others may attend meetings to provide legal advice and assistance, and some lawyers spend more time in court actively trying cases. All of these aspects of legal practice are of importance, and as people train and work, they learn more about the areas of legal practice they are most interested in. Some lawyers, for example, enjoy going to court, while others may prefer preparing legal research.
Definitely,today's journalism and communication studies are being transformed by new media and communication convergence.
I find how media law handles libel to be very interesting. The key to this is for the lawyer and victim to prove that what the publication or broadcast released was indeed false. For an average person this requires proof that is was false, as well as evidence that they were caused harm by the release of information. If you are famous you not only have to prove the first three things, but show that the release was meant to do you harm or completely circumvented the truth.
Can anyone think of any recent cases where a celebrity was caught up in a libel battle?
Most recently the one that comes to mind for me is how Katie Holmes received $50 million in compensation against a tabloid magazine that claimed she was into drugs.
If you study journalism in college or university you will undoubtedly take a course in media law. It will usually provide you with general guidelines to confidentiality and how not to get sued.
One of the most famous plot devices used in movies has to be the issue of how sources are protected. There are actually shield laws in many countries, such as the USA, that legislate a reporter's rights to protect sources by not revealing them during testimony.
This has been under some controversy as there are those that argue journalist's rights should not bypass national security. Do you think this area of media law needs work, or should journalists keep their shield?
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