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Know Your Rights: Hidden recordings

February 7, 2018 01:30

During Free Speech Week 2017, RTDNA co-hosted a Know Your Reporting Rights discussion addressing how the First Amendment applies to journalists. Here is the final segent of our series expanding on the topics and tips in that discussion (Part 1: FOIA, Part 2: Privacy, Part 3: Safety, Part 4: Social Media). This week: hidden recordings.

Can I record phone calls with sources?
Regulations on recording phone calls varies by jurisdiction. Federal law requires only one party on a phone call to consent to recording, but some states require both parties to consent to a call being recorded.

What about hidden cameras?
Use of hidden cameras is legally and ethically tricky. Again, laws vary by jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, publishing content of private conversation can be a legal minefield, but so can just recording it.
Remember that state laws can change so always check for updated information. Do not use hidden camera without clear direction from your management and legal teams. Don’t look for guidance after the fact.

Before using hidden cameras, consider:
  • What did you do to gain entry? Did you misrepresent yourself?
  • Is the conversation you’re recording legitimately private? Do the parties involved have a reasonable expectation of privacy?
If so, you are more likely to be legally challenged.

Using concealed newsgathering methods can be viewed as underhanded and is one way trust can be lost. But sometimes it’s the only way to get the story.

The decision to use hidden cameras should not be taken lightly. If you have tried everything else, are truly exposing wrongdoing, are certain the outcome be better if the story is exposed, and have talked through the situation with a lawyer, it may be worth the ethical risk.  See RTDNA’s coverage guidelines for hidden cameras.
For more on privacy, FOIA and what your newsroom needs to know before heading into any potentially confrontational story, download our Know Your Reporting Rights guide.


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