Here are some things to keep in mind as you decide whether or not to record a phone conversation with a source.

  • If the call involves two parties in the same state, you must know whether that state is a one-party or a two-party state before recording the call. Here's a way to check.

  • If the call crosses state lines, you must know the law for both states.

  • If you record a call with the other person's permission, be certain that you get that permission on tape.

  • The ban against recording also includes recording voicemail greetings, as a station in Louisiana found out.

  • Journalists should read a standardized, lawyer-prepared script to the person on the other end of the phone EVERY TIME they intend to tape somebody then broadcast that tape recording. This is NOT the one-party/two-party issue. The question here is about rebroadcasting what you tape.

Section 73.1206 of the FCC regulations says:

..before recording a telephone conversation for broadcast or broadcasting such a conversation simultaneously with its occurrence, a licensee shall inform any party to the call of its intention to broadcast the conversation, except where such party is aware, or may be presumed to be aware from the circumstances of the conversation, that it is being or likely will be broadcast.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press makes it clear that the person you are interviewing need not give permission, but that they be informed. It is always a good idea to talk with your lawyer about what your station's rules are. The lawyer will probably want to draft the "script" you will read before recording. 

  • Even if it is legal to record a one-party conversation in your state, it is still an act of deception. Ask the following questions:

    • What is the journalistic purpose for taping the conversations?

    • What alternatives have you considered to secretly taping the conversation?

    • What are the internal newsroom policies about taping phone conversations?

    • Is the story of overwhelming public importance?

    • Will the public good that will come from taping this conversation outweigh any potential harm that will come from taping the conversation?

    • How willing are you to disclose your methods to the public?