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Freedom of the press is a "fundamental personal right" which is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It also covers pamphlets, leaflets, and every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion. The press may not circulate knowing or reckless falsehoods damaging to private reputation without subjecting itself to liability for damages, including punitive damages, or even criminal prosecution. The U.S Supreme Court has found that there is no special privilege in libel law for speech that is labeled "opinion." It has also generally been held that the First Amendment does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special access to information not available to the public generally.
The press is regularly excluded from grand jury proceedings, court conferences, the meetings of other official bodies gathered in executive session, and the meetings of private organizations. Newsmen have no constitutional right of access to the scenes of crime or disaster when the general public is excluded, and they may be prohibited from attending or publishing information about trials if such restrictions are necessary to assure a defendant a fair trial before an impartial tribunal.
State laws vary on issues such as reporter's rights to record events or conversations, gain access to public records, and enter property. When news events occur on private property, reporters will usually need the permission of the property owner or public officials before entering. The common law doctrine of fair report allows certain public and official statements to be disclosed by the media without fear of liability. In most states, reports of arrests, civil and criminal trials and statements made to, by and about law enforcement officials are privileged. Reports of this nature must be accurate and fair in order for the reporter to invoke the fair report privilege.
Publication of accurate information about a person's private life that would be both highly offensive to a reasonable person and not of legitimate public concern is an invasion of privacy. How the information was obtained and its newsworthiness are determining factors in a claim of invasion of privacy. A reporter may usually report any information comes from a public record, such as a birth certificate, police report or judicial proceeding. As long as the information is obtained lawfully, reporters may publish truthful information about a matter of public concern unless the state can prove that preventing its publication furthers a substantial state interest.