Throughout much of the world, journalists’ legal rights of expression and access to information are ever-changing — and physical harm or financial injury are too often common. So it is some comfort to know that there are organizations willing to defend those legal rights established by regional, national, and international laws. Legal aid organizations may be limited, however, serving only a specific geographic region or limited to a specific area of law. Here are several well-established groups that specialize in getting legal assistance for journalists:
This global nongovernmental organization helps defend the rights of reporters across continents and across platforms — from print to broadcast and on line. The London-based group works with a network of legal defense organizations around the world, with individual lawyers and will also pay legal fees if necessary. MLDI provides special priority to cases in which an individual journalist is threatened with imprisonment or bankruptcy, as well as matters that threaten the existence of a media outlet. Support is also provided when journalists require legal assistance to assert their rights.
The OAS “Special Rapporteur” acts as an independent ombudsman, investigating petitions or complaints and reporting to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) on violations of press freedoms. One of its most important functions is to advise the IACHR on the evaluation of individual petitions and prepare the corresponding reports. The IACHR can then bring cases to the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights. While the Rapporteur does not provide journalists or media organizations with legal counsel or financial aid, it will consider a petition from journalists for free.
Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society has brought together select law firms, law schools, and individual lawyers throughout the United States to provide legal counsel and representation free of charge or at a reduced fee to online journalists and journalism ventures. The OMLN provides free referral for “business formation and governance, copyright licensing and fair use, access to government information, pre-publication review of content, and representation in litigation.”
The Independent Press Freedom Foundation Fund was established by Dutch Association of Journalists and Society of Editors in 2007 to support a broad range of rights of expression and access to information. While in Amsterdam and primarily focused on the Dutch media community, the Fund has given financial support to groups elsewhere in Europe.
In addition to the 24/7 emergency hotline serving journalist and legal professionals, this nonprofit provides resource guides and updates on court decisions and news related to media law. Based in Washington D.C. and serving working journalists in the United States, the Reporters Committee assists professionals and students alike to defend well-established rights in federal and state courts. The Reporters Committee also produces a series of guidebooks for Digital Journalism, a state-by-state guide to Open Government, a First Amendment Handbook and information regarding Reporter’s Privilege.
The Society’s legal fund was established to “initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceeding” but can also be used for organizing, informing and lobbying aimed at enforcing access to public records and proceedings. While the primary goal of the fund is to bring financial clout in support of journalists, the office can also assist in identifying legal counsel for specific First Amendment matters in all 50 states.