Long ago, you could tell a member of the media by the fact that he (and it always was a he) wore a hat with a card reading “press” stuck into it. And you knew that his biggest worry was getting his facts straight because, otherwise, he might be sued for defamation.
Today, the media landscape looks very different: We all are members of the media because we can publish with a click of a mouse—and that means that we can be liable for both defamation and newer torts sparked by the internet.
In Spring 2019, Tulane Law School’s Class of 1937 Professor of Law Amy Gajda, an expert in media law, will offer a new School of Liberal Arts Management Minor course, Mass Communication Law, to undergraduates. The course will focus on media law issues in a way that makes them interesting, accessible, and useful to anyone who creates or consumes media.
“When I talk with non-lawyers,” Gajda explained, “they often have no idea that everyday publishers, people and entities, can be just as liable for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress as more traditional publishers.” She maintains that students who post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram benefit from knowing more about media law-related matters, especially those who will one day have jobs that will require them to write things for the internet and otherwise.
Gajda says that her course will cover newer issues in media law including whether a Tweet can be defamatory; whether posting a public conversation to Facebook without permission is an invasion of privacy; and whether private information should be considered “newsworthy” simply because millions of people clicked on it.
But at the same time, she says that older media law issues retain their relevance, and that, at this time of pushback against the press, studying its role in democracy and its First Amendment protections are especially important.
“The media law rules in at least some sense are the same,” Gajda said, “but the people and the technologies are different enough so that the outcomes aren’t always clear. Throughout the term, we’ll discuss and debate what the appropriate legal responses in such an age should be.”