NYSBA Protects TV Station’s On-the Scene Coverage Involving Ambulances

As we reported last week, two bills have been introduced in the New York Legislature that will affect your ability to cover on-the-scene events that involve medical treatment.  In the Assembly, the bill A.420A is sponsored by Ed Braunstein (D Queens). The legislation (S.1693A) in the Senate is sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger (D Manhattan).

The bills would require stations to obtain a separate medical release from a patient receiving treatment before broadcasting the patient’s recognizable image or voice.  The failure to obtain such a release could result in a patient suing the broadcast station.  This raises a significant problem with reporting from live on the scene events.

As initially drafted, the legislation exposed stations to civil liability for covering “on-the- spot events,” where individuals were being treated by EMT and being placed into ambulances.  Many of the iconic 9/11 videos or news reports of accident scenes would subject TV stations to civil liability from patients appearing in these pictures.  It is absolutely impossible for a station to obtain the consent forms from people who are being loaded into ambulances.  Stations should not be liable for broadcasting images of people in an ambulance with the back door open.  Moreover, stations cannot pixelate or block an image while broadcast a live event on the street.

Years ago Geraldo Rivera reported on the Willow Brook School.  This news report resulted in significant changes to the mental health laws in New York.  Had S.1693A been on the books, this report could not have been broadcast.  There are fundamental First Amendment and public policy ramifications to these bills.

We are happy to report that Senator Liz Krueger has amended her bill S.1693 “B”, to reflect our concerns. First, the bill calcifies that on the scene reporting from an accident scene will not increase the risk of litigation. The bill makes clear that the requirement to obtain a patient’s permission is triggered when the patient is “within the ambulance with all doors closed.”    Thus unless you are filming from inside the ambulance, you would not be at risk under the legislation.   Second, the bill includes and exemption for new.

Unfortunately, the Assembly bill sponsored by Ed Braunstein (A 420B) does not have a news exemption. We oppose this bill.

We anticipate the Senate will pass its bill first.  Then it will be up to the Assembly to modify its bill to match the Senate version.  If it does not, the legislation will not pass.

We still have a few days to go in the session, and it is likely to be extended.  We will keep you updated.

To see a copy of our Memo in Opposition click HERE.

To see copy of S.1693”B” click HERE.

To see a copy of A 420B click HERE.


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