SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. (June 9, 2008)–A Los Angeles federal judge ruled that owners and publishers have a First Amendment right to control the content of their publications. U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled in favor of Ampersand Publishing LLC, parent company of the Santa Barbara News-Press, and against the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and its regional director James J. McDermott. James J. McDermott, National Labor Relations Board v. Ampersand Publishing L.L.C. d/b/a The Santa Barbara News-Press, CV 08-1551 (SVW) (MANx) May 21, 2008.
The News-Press argued that eight newsroom staffers had tried to dictate the editorial content of the News-Press over the objections of the newspaper’s owner and co-publisher, Wendy McCaw. “At the inception of a union campaign in July 2006, these former staffers and union supporters organized to keep McCaw from controlling the news and in fact formally demanded content control,” says A. Barry Cappello, managing partner at Cappello & Noël and the lead attorney representing the News-Press. “As the union lawyer put it, the campaign was ‘not about money’ or ‘perks’.” Clashes continued between McCaw and the reporters over news content. “The employees were eventually fired,” says Cappello, “for refusing to eliminate bias from news articles and for company disloyalty by urging subscribers and advertisers to join a News-Press boycott to help achieve their goal of controlling the content of the paper.”
The reporters filed grievances with the NLRB, claiming they were fired because they were attempting to organize a union at the paper. Judge Wilson denied the NLRB’s request to reinstate the employees at the newspaper, stating that because the employees made “a specific demand related to the content of the News-Press” as part of their union demands, the effort to unionize was actually an attempt to cede the authority of the publisher’s editorial discretion.
News-Press publisher McCaw asserted that the reporters were fired because of what she believed was biased reporting in contradiction to News-Press policy, not unionization, and it was her First Amendment right to act in the manner she did. Judge Wilson agreed.
“This ruling is significant because it affects every publisher–from small community newspapers to national publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Time,” says Cappello. “Publishers need the ability to deal with rogue reporters who ignore company policies. As we see newspapers and magazines nationally losing readership and ad dollars, more and more publishers will want to exert control over every aspect of their business so it remains profitable–and that includes control of the editorial decision-making in the newsroom. This ruling confirms that it is their First Amendment-protected right.”
For a copy of the judge’s order, contact Diane Rumbaugh, 805-493-2877, email@example.com