What rights do journalists have at accident or disaster scenes?

Thursday, August 19, 2004

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.