A Guide Through the Legal Jungle Trivia Question
Suzy Snooper is a reporter for Channel 41 News in Los Angeles. She has heard rumors that a famous English soccer star recently moved to California with his pop star wife. Suzy wants Channel 41 to be the first news station to capture footage of the couple in America. Which of the following strategies for getting “the scoop” is most likely to cause Suzy (and her bosses) legal troubles?
A. Hiding in a tree across the street from the couple’s home and snapping some photos with a zoom lens
B. Waiting outside the nightclub frequented by the couple in an attempt to interview the soccer player as he exits
C. Using a tiny but supersensitive microphone to record a hushed conversation between the couple as they wait in line at the supermarket
D. Calling the soccer player at home and asking personal questions under the pretense of a public opinion poll
The correct answer is D. Using or intercepting a recorded conversation is likely to be viewed by a court as unacceptable if the offended party had a reasonable expectation of privacy. In this case, the soccer player likely assumed the results of personal questions asked as part of a public opinion poll were to be kept anonymous. Additionally, Suzy used deception when posing as a pollster and calling the couple’s home. This would likely be viewed by courts as an unacceptable method of newsgathering.
Answers A, B, and C illustrate news gathering techniques typically viewed as acceptable by courts: using a device such as a zoom lens or microphone to record action within public earshot or view; photographing private property while located on public property; and engaging in newsgathering activities in or from a public place.
(Thanks to Miguel Harvey, 2009 JD Candidate, Georgetown University Law Center, for writing the initial draft of this trivia question.)