In order to better protect the First Amendment rights of Massachusetts journalists, Project Veritas Action Fund (PVA) has initiated legal action in U.S. District Court against Suffolk County, Massachusetts District Attorney Daniel Conley. The suit, Project Veritas Action Fund v. Conley, challenges the Commonwealth’s eavesdropping law which unconstitutionally restricts legitimate newsgathering techniques protected by law in most other states.
At issue is that journalists could be charged with a felony (maximum five years in prison and a $10,000 fine) for engaging in undercover newsgathering even when it involves secretly recording public officials and political candidates in public places. Under current law, journalists could be charged with a misdemeanor (maximum two years and $5,000 fine) merely for possessing undercover recording equipment.
“There is universal agreement that the First Amendment was designed to protect citizens holding their government accountable,” stated PVA counsel Ben Barr. “But Massachusetts ignores that principle by maintaining one of the most restrictive recording laws in the nation. The result is that investigative journalists willing to expose corruption can go to prison just for shining the light of transparency on backroom deals. We intend to secure the rights of journalists in Massachusetts by allowing them to record matters of public concern.”
In most states, “one-party” consent laws allow journalists to record conversations without the consent of the individual being recorded. A few states require “two-party” consent, but allow for recording where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. Both types of consent laws allow at least minimal First Amendment protections for investigative journalists; however, current Massachusetts code is so restrictive that journalists face potential jail time for shining the light of transparency on public malfeasance.
“Because corrupt politicians don’t broadcast their fraud, waste and abuse on television or from a podium at a campaign rally, it’s critical that undercover reporters be allowed their constitutional rights in order to inform the public about wrongdoing at taxpayer expense,” said PVA president James O’Keefe. “The current laws protect and indemnify the guilty. Our job is to shine the spotlight of truth to expose their dirty laundry.”
The Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief was filed on Friday, March 4, 2016 in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Boston Division.