The major appellant was Cox Broadcasting, which broadcasted the name of a rape victim in the news report. The second appellant was the reporter who retrieved the victim’s name from the publicly available indictments. The appellee was the rape victim’s father, Cohn. The appellee claimed that it is unlawful to broadcast the name of the rape victim, and perceived the mention of his daughter’s name in the news report as a violation of privacy.
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In he pursues, he relied on a Georgia statute. In response to the appellee’s allegations, the appellants referred to the First and the Fourteenth Amendments which state the protection of free-press. The trial court rejected the appellants’ claims and held that the Georgia statute provides civil protection to those whose rights to privacy are violated.
On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the trial court made an error in the interpretation of the Georgia statute and declared that the First and the Fourteenth Amendments require no legal judgment for the appellants. During the process of rehearing, the appellants claimed that broadcasting of the victim’s name was of public interest and they believed they could report it with impunity. However, the Supreme Court resolved the contention because the statute is a legal limitation on the First Amendment.
In 1972, Cohn filed a claim for the reimbursement of moral damage against Cox Broadcasting relying on Code Ann. § 26-9901 (1972) (Supreme Court of The United States par. 3). The Court of Appeal decided that the violation of the appellee’s right for privacy was misinterpreted by the trial court and required Cohn to provide the proof for the invasion of his privacy zone. The Court referred to the First and the Fourteenth Amendments’ statement, which was also brought in Briscoe v. Reader’s Digest Assn., Inc., 4 Cal. 3d 529, 541, 483 P. 2d 34, 42 (1971), that the right to freedom of the press does not cancel the right to individual privacy, and the agreement between the press and private persons may be attained without excess disturbance (Supreme Court of The United States par. 3).
Did the Georgia statute which protected the rights to privacy violate the freedom of publications protected by the First and the Fourteenth Amendments?
Although the trial court decided in favor of the appellee, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the appellants. The holding was supported by the claim that the Georgia statute violated the freedom of the press by prohibiting Cox Broadcasting to use the information which was legally obtained. The Federal Court has jurisdiction over the case under 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (2). Pp. 476-487 (Supreme Court of The United States par. 2).
According to the final decision, the state court cannot impose limitations on the publications of rape victim names retrieved from the publicly available official sources. In this way, the Court held that crimes, prosecutions, and judicial proceedings are matters of public interest, and it is the responsibility of the press to report about the state of affairs in the country. Moreover, it was stated that the interest of privacy dims in case the broadcasted information included in the official court documents is already freely accessible.
The Supreme Court considered that the Georgia statute violated the Constitution. The Court regarded the right for privacy important yet, in the case, freedom of the press became the priority. When the informational agencies and mass media publish information which is obtained according to the law, without fraud, deception, or intended violation of rules, the publication is regarded as rightful.
Moreover, when a case is a public matter, the fact of privacy becomes insignificant as the information involved in the case and legal procedures are already registered in public documents. Based on this, mass media may minimize the usage of victims’ names in their reports to show respect to those exposed to victimization, as well as their close ones, but they have all rights to broadcast the names and other personal data retrieved from open official sources.
The First Amendment states that the government cannot adopt a law that would infringe on the freedom of the press. The Court’s ruling on the rightfulness of the legal acquisition of accurate information by mass media has tremendous importance and emphasizes the superiority of the federal law.
The protection under the First Amendment thus extends on the publications about multiple public and governmental affairs, and the principle implemented in the Court on the case Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 1975 – the deprivation of local statute’s legal basis due to its constitutional invalidity – was also used in several other cases: Landmark Communications v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829 (1978) – disclosure of information about the hearings on misconduct; or Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S 97, (1979) – publication of teenage offenders’ names.
The federal issue was also decided in Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241 (1974), when, in terms of the First Amendment, the State government was forbidden to dictate mass media the content of publications.
Mr. White delivered the opinion of the Court. Mr. Chief Justice Burger and Mr. Justice Powell filed the concurring opinions on the Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment in the case. They agreed on the holding and the majority of the supporting rationale. However, Mr. Justice Powell expressed some concerns about the Court’s perception of truth as a defense in defamation actions issued by the private persons.
The commonly accepted standards for the identification of “defamatory falsehood” caused to private citizens, and liabilities for the adverse impacts on individuals made by the publishers should be developed (Supreme Court of The United States par. 6). It is suggested that truthfulness of the published statements, and not the reliability and availability of informational sources, should be considered the criteria of the complete defense from the brought actions and violation of privacy. Thus, the establishment of such criteria may ensure the protection of both sides.
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Mr. Justice Rehnquist filed a dissenting opinion on the Court’s decision because it did not seem sufficiently conclusive. It is argued that the jurisdiction was exercised without particular reasons through the discovery of “new exceptions to the finality requirement” (Supreme Court of The United States par. 7). The dissenting side considers that the Court did not express sufficient explanations for its interference with the local judicial functions.
While delivering the final decision of the Court, Mr. Justice White claimed that broadcasting of the public information is very important for the country because it helps to raise awareness and lets people make their judgments on US affairs. As the case demonstrates, in the 20th century, the Court endowed the text of the First Amendment with new meanings to support mass media’s rights to fulfill their mission. However, some limitations in freedom of the press still exist, and the questions about the extent of the freedom of future mass media remain open.
Supreme Court of The United States. Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 2009. Web.