The Right To Look

February 28, 2013 at the Honda Classic Serena Williams got busted for using her phone to make an image of Tiger Woods. On 3-5-13 the Newark Advocate ran an Op Ed piece entitled Who Owns The News by Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C. In it Policinski uses the recent NASCAR Daytona race crash/YouTube video (made from a cell phone like Serena did) to introduce the notion of “owning” the news. As Gene points out, many events, places, people and products own the right to their image, to reproduction and dissemination. An image of Obama or Mickey Mouse, the recipe for KFC chicken or Chanel no. 5, the NFL design of the Dallas Cowboys star, or a Beatles’ song can be owned. Reproduce it and you are liable to be accused of theft. Policinski connects this with the freedom of the press. That the ownership of this “planned” news has limits. It does not include accounts made of “unexpected” news. His view is that unexpected news (news that is not owned) should fall under our constitutional right to freedom of the press. Policinski does not consider the various disclaimers of liability that purchasers, employees, etc.  sign that free the seller of any responsibility for “unexpected” happenings. Such an interpretation could likewise be used to insure ownership of the news, expected or unexpected.

Globally this question is considered in a completely different manner, one we Americans don’t care to consider. The right to look does not appear anywhere in our constitution. When there is a crime scene, be it one of violence to individual or property, a white collar crime or one of government abuse and corruption, the yellow crime tape goes up. It allows only those “owning” the proper credentials or press pass to enter and look. For the rest of us, the officer standing outside the tape will say “Move along now, there is nothing to see here.” As Policinski points out, the realpolitik is that “the freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.” But considered from the perspective of a right to look, is ownership a justification for who can look? When it comes to a community of 48,000 people, like Newark (or Mansfield), does the community have a “right to look”?

The Newark community has limited outlets that own a press pass and have the right to look. The preferred outlook, the one taught in grade school civics and government classes, is that this is so because “the market” of supply and demand makes publishing and disseminating news and information possible – ownership is what makes for possibility. Currently Newark is supplied by The Newark Advocate, and 2 commercial radio stations (WCLT, WNKO). The Advocate is not locally owned while the two radio stations maintain they are. The Advocate is owned by the Gannett Company, Inc. a publicly traded media holding company headquartered in Tysons Corner, Virginia which also owns the newspapers in Lancaster, Coshocton, etc. Outside the geographic area the Newark population can obtain local news from Columbus outlets such as The Dispatch Company which is primarily owned by the Wolfe family originally of Columbus (that also owns the CBS news affiliate), the ABC news affiliate which along with the Fox news Affiliate is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group in Hunt Valley Maryland and the NBC affiliate owned by Media General Communications Holdings out of Richmond Virginia. Ownership of CBS  by CBS Corporation (formerly Viacom) is murky. Wiki has “Sumner Redstone, owner of National Amusements, is CBS’s majority shareholder and serves as executive chairman.” Disney is claimed to own ABC, Rupert Murdoch possesses Fox, and GE is touted as NBC’s owner. In addition to that, residents may access “news” from outside sources such as radio, internet, subscription print publications, etc. that may or may not include news specifically pertinent to Newark.

Who owns the news? Who owns the right to look? Who owns the right to look in Newark Ohio? Does a community of 48,000 people have a right to look?

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