Reporter's Privilege

This section covers the use of subpoenas to force journalists to disclose their confidential news sources and unpublished information. Shield laws exist in forty states; if a reporter isn't covered by a shield law, there may still be a constitutional privilege that helps protect sources and information. This section also covers official attempts to seize journalists' work product and documents without a warrant.

Reporters Committee files brief in support of reporter ordered to reveal source of police report

Press Release | March 20, 2014
March 20, 2014
Reporters Committee files brief in support of reporter ordered to reveal source of police report

The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of 38 other media organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief last week in support of a reporter in Chicago who was ordered to testify about his confidential source in a murder trial.

Ohio Supreme Court declines to hold reporter in contempt for refusing to testify

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | March 19, 2014
March 19, 2014

The Ohio Supreme Court decided Monday not to hold a reporter in contempt of court for refusing to testify in a disciplinary hearing against an attorney.

While the case was poised to answer the question of whether the state's reporter's privilege applied in quasi-judicial or administrative proceedings, the state's high court did not squarely answer this question. Instead of issuing a full opinion, the court briefly announced that it was dismissing the case and denying the Akron Bar Association's request to hold the reporter in contempt.

Illinois v. McKee (Hosey subpoena)

March 14, 2014 reporter Joseph Hosey was ordered to testify in an Illinois murder trial regarding the identity of his source who supplied him with a police report that contained details of the double murder. The judge in the trial court applied the state's shield law to Hosey but nonetheless deprived him of the privilege, finding that the identity of the source was relevant to the trial, alternative sources had been exhausted, and the information was essential to protect the public interest. When Hosey still refused to disclose his source, the judge fined him $1,000 plus $300 a day until he complied. Hosey appealed, and the fines are on hold pending resolution of the appeal. In this amicus brief, joined by 38 other media organizations, we argue that the Illinois reporter's privilege should protect Hosey from having to reveal his source in court. We emphasize the importance of crime reporting and why reporters must have access to reliable information from law enforcement sources.

Taking your shield with you

What the Jana Winter decision means for journalists reporting across state lines
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Cindy Gierhart

AP Photo

Jana Winter

Journalist Jana Winter’s win in New York’s highest court in December was undoubtedly a victory not just for her but for journalists everywhere. But just how will the court’s decision affect journalists, both inside and outside New York?

All shield laws are not created equal

Broadly, this case is about a battle between two states’ shield laws – sometimes called a reporter’s privilege – which protect journalists from having to reveal their sources in court.

Ohio bar association asks state Supreme Court to hold reporter in contempt

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | February 12, 2014
February 12, 2014

The Ohio Supreme Court is set to decide whether a reporter will be forced to testify in a lawyer’s disciplinary hearing.

While Ohio has a shield statute that protects journalists from having to reveal sources of information in court, the state has not yet determined whether the reporter’s privilege extends into quasi-judicial or administrative proceedings, according to court filings.

Bill to strengthen Colorado shield law fails in committee

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | January 30, 2014
January 30, 2014

A bill that would have strengthened the Colorado shield law did not garner sufficient votes in the state's Senate Judiciary Committee to move forward.

Republican state Sen. Bernie Herpin introduced the bill in response to Fox News reporter Jana Winter's recent subpoena to testify before a Colorado court in the case of James Holmes, on trial for the Aurora theater shooting.

Colorado considers bill to bolster reporter shield law

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | January 16, 2014
January 16, 2014

The Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee considered a bill Wednesday that would strengthen the Colorado reporter shield law.

Colorado Sen. Bernie Herpin introduced the bill after Colorado courts threatened jail time for Fox News reporter Jana Winter if she did not reveal her confidential sources. The committee delayed a vote on the bill until a later date.

Reporters Committee pleased by New York court's decision to protect Fox News reporter's sources

Press Release | December 10, 2013
December 10, 2013

Freedom of the press triumphed today as the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled that Fox News reporter Jana Winter should not be compelled to reveal the sources for her reporting about the notebook of accused Aurora, Colo., theater shooter James Holmes, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

New York high court quashes Fox News subpoena in Holmes theater shooting case

Reporter's Privilege | News | December 10, 2013
December 10, 2013

Stressing that New York has a "mantle of protection" for journalists' confidential sources that "has been recognized as the strongest in the nation," the New York Court of Appeals today quashed a subpoena served on Fox News reporter Jana Winter for her source for a story on James Holmes, the Colorado theater shooting suspect.

The subpoena had been issued by the defense in the Colorado criminal trial, but had to be served on Winter through New York courts. The New York high court's decision noted that Colorado law provides substantially less protection, and under it, Winter may well be compelled to identify her source, which places enforcement of the subpoena in conflict with New York law.

A shield advances

How would the federal shield bill that passed the Judiciary Committee affect journalists?
Cover Story
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Cindy Gierhart

AP Photo by Mark Lennihan

Editorial employees walk through the headquarters of The Associated Press in New York. The Justice Department secretly obtained the wire service’s telephone record, prompting the recent battle for a federal shield law for journalists.

Since the Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amended version of a federal shield bill in September, commentators have largely focused on who qualifies as a journalist under the bill. While it is an important question, it is not the only question journalists should be asking.

The proposed federal shield bill, known as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, is a lengthy bill with a number of provisions. Even if an individual qualifies as a journalist initially, he or she might lose protection due to any one of the bill’s exceptions.