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Old September 2nd, 2008, 03:03 PM   #1
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Another legal question - quoting a source

As some of you may know I am shooting a controversial documentary. During the course of doing the research I have talked to people on the phone and asked for permission to put them on speakerphone and tape the conversation. Not surprisingly, most have refused.

If someone refuses to be taped is it still legal to make a general statement about the conversation in voiceover such as, "Mr. Johnson would not agree to be taped but when asked if he knew about the incident, he denied all knowledge."

Taking it to the next level, would I be able to say, "When asked about the incident Mr. Johnson replied, 'I don't know what the hell you're talking about. This conversation is OVER!'"

To me there seems to be a difference between a general statement and a direct quote, possibly a legal one. For the latter statement would I have needed to ask "Can I quote you on this?"
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 11:15 AM   #2
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Newspapers use direct quotes all the time, although they traditionally used short hand notes, however, in the end it depends on how likely someone is to sue. I don't think these days newspapers ask for permission about recording when their reporters do telephone interviews, especially on controversial pieces, just to keep themselves covered against denials. They also have lawyers who keep an eye on possible problems.

I think the use of the direct quote would depend on how it was being used and what he's denying. Without a recording you'd probably need to have a piece to camera so that the audience can see who had interviewed "Mr Johnson" and heard directly what he said.
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 05:07 PM   #3
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Michael, find a working journalist (they do notify people they are recording conversations) to help you and get a lawyer. You're in over your head and asking for trouble if you're asking questions like these.
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 05:45 PM   #4
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Michael, find a working journalist (they do notify people they are recording conversations) to help you and get a lawyer. You're in over your head and asking for trouble if you're asking questions like these.
I don't mean to sound naive but if I report nothing but the truth how can they hurt me?
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 05:59 PM   #5
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Not to be overly blunt, but they'll hire someone (or a building full of someones) who says something along the lines of "that depends on what your definition of 'is' is". Depending on how well connected and financed your potential opponents are, and the issue in question, you could find yourself in an unfortunate position, truth on your side or not. Remember the old saying "dead right is still DEAD"...

There's truth, and there are opinions, and there are no requirements on the legal "profession" to pay any attention whatsoever to truth... as long as they are "acting in the interests of THEIR client". Trust me on this one.

Proceed at your own risk, get some good legal counsel to have your back, and hope you can outlast your opponent long enough that the "truth" prevails...
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Old September 3rd, 2008, 10:47 PM   #6
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If you were comfortable with your exposure, you wouldn't have posted here. Talk to an attorney -get certified legal advice.
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Old September 4th, 2008, 08:52 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Rick L. Allen View Post
Michael, find a working journalist (they do notify people they are recording conversations) to help you and get a lawyer. You're in over your head and asking for trouble if you're asking questions like these.
It would depend if they're working "undercover" if they would notify people. For most journalist work, yes they would tell you and in a face to face interview you'd either see them recording or making notes. Notifying is different to asking permission, the recorder could already be on when you tell them you're recording.

If the person has denied any involvement during the research for a documentary, then perhaps you should try door stepping him on camera and asking him again for comments.
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Old September 4th, 2008, 09:14 AM   #8
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Thank you all for your help. This is a touchy situation and I will be seeking professional legal advice.
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Old September 6th, 2008, 06:11 PM   #9
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"I don't mean to sound naive but if I report nothing but the truth how can they hurt me?"
Yes they can, refer to the now famous case of Food Lions Stores vs CBS News.....they reported only the truth and still lost a huge case. They obtained "the truth" by lying about who they were- false representation.

Also, after 25 years in the news industry, I can assure you that reporters ALWAYS obtain permission before recording a telephone conversation. It's federal law. Remember Monica Luwenski (sp?)? The lady who was suppose to be her friend recorded phone conversations they had about President Clinton.....after all was over, she was later charged under this same federal law and was convicted. Be careful! The "truth" will not keep you out of the hands of the law.
Best of luck
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Old September 6th, 2008, 06:24 PM   #10
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I cant help with genuine legal information but maybe it depends on what country your in ?

If your in the UK you can do as you please, the papers lie every day and to the point where reading the papers is akin to reading the dandy or beano, although having said that, there is bound to be more truth in a comic book than a national newspaper in England.
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Old September 7th, 2008, 01:07 PM   #11
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It depends...

Each state has different laws regarding this kind of situation. In Oregon for example, the law only requires that one of the parties be aware that the conversation is being recorded. So if you were in Oregon you could call and record the conversation as long as one of the parties, you, know and consent to the conversation being recorded.

Interestingly though a man was recently arrested in Oregon for making an audio recording of a police officer arresting a subject. Since neither the police officer or the subject consented to the recording being made the recording was considered an illegal invasion of privacy, even though it was captured on public property. Aparantely if the man was using a still or video camera to capture visuals that would have been different, as would keeping the recording to him self and offering a transcript, as that would have fallen under freedom of the press.

You can read more about the case here- Police arrest man for cell phone recording - Washington County - Oregonlive.com

Other states have different laws. Some states only require you notify a party they are being recorded, that way they have an opportunity to hang up- but once they are notified anything is fair game.

In other states you can't record the conversation, or tell people what was said unless the other person agrees. Although in yet other states, you can recount what was said in the conversation as long as you were honest with who you were and what you were doing... for example if you said "Hi, my name is Dave and I am doing a documentary film on last years incident involving contaminated cat food and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions."

If they're response is, "No way, I'm not talking to you, It wasn't our fault! It was the pet shop! Go to hell!" You could then say that, "I called a representitive of the company who said that it wasn't their fault. The person I spoke with said the fault laid with the pet store, and refused to provide further comment."

But once again the laws very greatly from state to state. By watching your local news you might be able to get an idea of what your states laws are, but the only way to know for sure is to consult a lawyer. Although sometimes you can get help by talking to a local journalism professional.

However... it is important to note that even if you do everything legally you can still get sued. People can file a lawsuit for whatever reason, and even if you are in the right, if you piss people off, you should be prepared to be sued.

Additionally even if you think you are being careful, you can still get in trouble. For example if you call a company, someone who answers the phone says something, and you then report what they say by stating something like, "The company tells me blah blah blah..." The company can then say, "That was just some intern who answered the phone, thats not our position, you didn't verify that with us." You can then still get in trouble. Where if you would have said "The person who answered the phone when I called the company said..." Instead of "The company tells me..." you may have protected yourself.

You might want to see if you can hook up with an experienced journalist in your area for this project. Journalists go to school for this kind of stuff and have experience in doing this, for many of them dealing with controversial stories and pushing what the law allows is every day work for them.

Good luck with your project!
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Old September 7th, 2008, 02:00 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaun Stanley View Post
"I don't mean to sound naive but if I report nothing but the truth how can they hurt me?"
Yes they can, refer to the now famous case of Food Lions Stores vs CBS News.....they reported only the truth and still lost a huge case. They obtained "the truth" by lying about who they were- false representation.

Also, after 25 years in the news industry, I can assure you that reporters ALWAYS obtain permission before recording a telephone conversation. It's federal law. Remember Monica Luwenski (sp?)? The lady who was suppose to be her friend recorded phone conversations they had about President Clinton.....after all was over, she was later charged under this same federal law and was convicted. Be careful! The "truth" will not keep you out of the hands of the law.
Best of luck
Interesting to know if they always do this in practise or do they merely say that "this conversation is being recorded". UK call centres do more or less the same thing for "training purposes". Recorded telephone conversions do get used in investigative programmes in the UK during undercover reporting.

Best check out the laws where you live and what you're planning to do with a lawyer.

However, for a documentary I'd door step this person and put the points to him and allow him to respond on camera; it'll be much stronger. In documentaries about controversial subjects, the attempted interview with main players is a key element of the genre.
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