More than 20 journalism groups and news companies have joined together in support of the Capital Cities/ABC appeal in the Food Lion decision.
The Society of Professional Journalists First Amendment counsel Baker & Hostetler filed March 18, an amici curiae or "friends of the court" brief on behalf of the groups. The brief supports a post-trial motion by Capital Cities/ABC that a $5.5 million punitive damage award be set aside. The award was made to Food Lion, Inc., by a North Carolina jury earlier this year after the grocery chain argued that ABC staff members trespassed by using hidden cameras on store premises and committed fraud by lying about previous work experience and continuing to work for ABC while they were supposedly Food Lion employees.
"This verdict is bad for journalism and bad for the public," said SPJ President Steve Geimann. "Reporters and news organizations should be evaluated based on their stories, not the way they prepare those stories.
"In the Food Lion case, ABC rightly determined that some surreptious reporting was needed to tell the story using the tools of television. SPJ's Ethics code addresses this issue, recognizing that sometimes traditional methods of gathering the news won't get the full story. In the final evaluations, the jury punished ABC News with a financial penalty that just doesn't fit the offense. This is a dangerous precedent that must be challenged and reversed."
The brief states, "Should this award stand, it will send a message to all those whose job it is to gather news -- from ABC to every small, family-owned weekly newsppaer in Norht Carolina -- that the use of any form of deceoption to gathre news is impremissible and may be pundished with draconian fines, no matter how minimal the actual harm it causes."
Groups and companies participating in the brief are: CBS Inc., Discovery Communications, Inc. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., K-III Communications Corporation, King World Productions, Inc., McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., Media/Professional Insurance, National Broadcasting Company, Inc., The Associated Press, the E.W. Scripps Company, the Hearst Corporation, the National Association of Broadcasters, The Newspaper Association of America, The Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Washington Post Company, Time Inc., Tribune Company, and Viacom Inc.