The Honorable Nancy Gertner, Joan Venocchi JD '84, and professor Alasdair Roberts participate in a panel discussion
The rise of Internet journalism, often conducted via blogs and YouTube postings, has put enormous pressure on the already strained relationship between freedom of the press and personal privacy rights.
In March, the Masterman Institute at Suffolk Law held its first symposium, titled “Freedom of the Press and Individual Privacy” and featuring a keynote address from former New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Lewis.
Speaking to a luncheon audience of more than 50 legal experts, Lewis said that when presented with a decision between publishing and withholding sensitive information, his vote has always been for “preserving human dignity.”
“I believe the press is strengthened if it understands its limits and the responsibility that goes along with its freedom,” said Lewis. “This will become a coarser and less humane society if we trample on personal privacy. However, my view has not been widely embraced by the journalism community or its lawyers. In fact, it is seen by many as heresy.”
The daylong symposium also featured a panel discussion moderated by Alasdair Roberts, the Jerome L. Rappaport Professor of Law and Public Policy.
“What is American journalism at this point?” asked panelist John Reinstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “The same technology that allows ever-increasing invasion into our privacy is the same technology that is killing the American newspaper.”
Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi JD ’84 said the situation is exacerbated by the enormous financial pressure on newspapers at a time when circulation is shrinking and advertising is migrating to the Web.
“The other big change is the desperation of the mainstream media,” she said. “This is causing them to cave and let the internet set the agenda. Editors serve as watchdogs, but they are losing control of the process as they desperately try to save their jobs.”
Scott Armstrong, a former Washington Post reporter who co-authored The Brethren with Bob Woodward, made the case for a more aggressive press corps.
“I get dizzy when people start to talk about balancing acts,” he said. “My job is to invade your privacy. The problems we are facing right now are because there hasn’t been enough invasion of privacy. The press certainly did not do enough invasion of Wall Street’s privacy.”
The Masterman Institute at Suffolk Law was founded in 2008 by Edward Masterman JD ’50, LLD ’90 and his wife Sydell to explore the competing interests of press freedom and individual privacy. Professor Karen M. Blum JD ’74, who teaches in the areas of federal courts and civil rights and liberties, serves as director.
“The inaugural symposium was everything we hoped it would be,” says Blum. “It brought together people who have given much thought to the tension between freedom of the press and privacy concerns and provided a forum for a provocative and educational exchange of ideas.”
Planning for next year’s symposium is already underway. Philip Balboni, founder of New England Cable News and president and CEO of online start-up GlobalPost, will serve as keynote speaker, with television and radio commentator Callie Crossley serving as panel moderator.
From left: Edward Masterman JD '50 LLD '90, and keynote speaker Anthony Lewis; Lewis and Professor Karen Blum.
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