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This section covers the use of subpoenas to force journalists to disclose their confidential news sources and unpublished information.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.

Court finds identity of leaker not relevant to murder trial, overturns order to journalist to disclose source

Kimberly Chow | Reporter's Privilege | News | December 16, 2014
News
December 16, 2014

An Illinois appellate court has reversed a trial court’s order that a reporter reveal his confidential source, shooting down the judge's conclusion that finding the identity of a leaker of a police document in a murder case justified compelled disclosure.

The Reporters Committee, joined by 38 other media organizations, filed an amicus brief in the case, People of the State of Illinois v. Bethany McKee, in April 2014.

Washington Times settles case involving Homeland Security's seizure of reporter's papers

Kimberly Chow | Reporter's Privilege | News | October 2, 2014
News
October 2, 2014

The Washington Times has settled a lawsuit it brought with former reporter Audrey Hudson against the Department of Homeland Security, whose Coast Guard Investigative Service improperly seized notes and papers of Hudson’s during a 2013 raid on her home.

"We need to be ready to fight"

Ted Boutrous on free speech, reporter's privilege and legal challenges ahead for journalists
Commentary
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6

Media lawyer Ted Boutrous.

By Tony Mauro

Mauro is a member of the Reporters Committee Steering Committee and U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for The National Law Journal.

Lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. may be best known these days for his winning ways in headline-making cases on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to class actions and teacher tenure.

Defending James Risen: Circuits Split

Many federal circuit courts offer journalists little protection from testifying in criminal trials
Feature
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Cindy Gierhart

When the Supreme Court in June denied reporter James Risen’s request for an appeal of his contempt order for refusing to name a source, it left a bleak outlook for the reporter’s privilege in criminal cases in the Fourth Circuit. Unfortunately, many of the other federal circuits do not paint a bright picture when it comes to reporters testifying in criminal cases.

While there is no federal shield law (supporters hope the latest version of such a bill will go to the Senate floor for a vote soon), most federal circuit courts have recognized some type of reporter’s privilege. A reporter’s privilege protects journalists in some instances from having to testify about their reporting or reveal their confidential sources.

Supreme Court requires police to obtain warrants before searching cell phones

Bradleigh Chance | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 25, 2014
News
June 25, 2014

The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in favor of digital privacy Wednesday that says police generally need a search warrant to examine an arrested person’s cell phone.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a sweeping opinion, stating that digital devices contain collections of potentially sensitive information. The Court rejected arguments that searching a cellphone is akin to examining anything else officers might find on someone they arrest.

“Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse,” Roberts wrote.

The opinion still allows police to search cell phones without warrants under “exigent circumstances.” This includes “ticking-bomb scenarios” or instances when there’s reason to believe evidence is going to be destroyed.

Media organizations urge Senate to vote on federal shield bill

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 13, 2014
News
June 13, 2014

Spurred by a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen – which could result in Risen going to jail or being fined for not naming his source – media organizations stress that now is the time to pass a federal shield bill.

More than 70 news organizations – the Reporters Committee included – sent a letter to the Senate majority and minority leaders earlier this week, urging them to schedule a vote on the shield bill.

Supreme Court will not hear Risen's appeal over subpoena in Sterling prosecution

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 2, 2014
News
June 2, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will not hear an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen, who has been subpoenaed to testify in a government leaks prosecution.

Risen could now face jail or fines if he refuses to testify.

Joel Kurtzberg, Risen’s attorney, said the ball is now in the government’s court. Risen was never held in contempt because the trial court initially ruled that he was protected by the reporter’s privilege and did not have to testify. An appellate court later reversed, and that decision now stands.

Therefore, the government will have to pursue Risen’s testimony again in trial court, Kurtzberg said.

“If they say they are going to do that, we will make clear that [Risen] is not going to testify and then there would have to be a contempt hearing,” Kurtzberg said.

Supreme Court won't hear Holmes appeal over Fox News reporter subpoena in Aurora theater shooting

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Reporter's Privilege | News | May 27, 2014
News
May 27, 2014

The Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal of a New York ruling that said Fox News reporter Jana Winter did not have to testify in the Colorado murder trial of James Holmes, the accused Aurora theater shooter. The lower court’s opinion therefore still stands, and Winter will not be forced to testify.

The Colorado court wanted Winter to testify about the sources who gave her confidential information about a notebook Holmes sent to his psychiatrist before he opened fire in a Colorado movie theater in July 2012.

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

Press Release | March 20, 2014
March 20, 2014
Reporters Committee files brief in support of Patch.com 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 Patch.com 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
News
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.