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The Justice Department today announced further changes to its internal guidelines for issuing subpoenas and search warrants to journalists. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other members of the news media had urged the Justice Department to revise the guidelines to offer greater protections for reporters and news organizations.
“While we have not yet seen the final regulations, we welcome these changes and appreciate the willingness of Attorney General Holder and DOJ officials to listen to the concerns of the news media when recalibrating their policies,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. Noting the Department’s decision this week not to call New York Times reporter James Risen as a witness at an upcoming federal trial, Brown added, “We hope that decision coupled with the new guidelines reflects that we’ve turned a corner with the DOJ.”
Last year, in the wake of news stories in May 2013 revealing that Justice Department had secretly seized the phone and email records of journalists from the Associated Press and Fox News, the Justice Department issued revamped guidelines – the first time they had been updated since the 1980s – that expanded the coverage of the guidelines to include all newsgathering records held by third parties (such as email service providers and credit card companies), applied protections to journalists when the Department considered issuing search warrants, and stated that journalists would almost always be notified before the government sought their records.
But those policies were also conditioned on a new concept of “ordinary” newsgathering to which media groups objected. The guidelines published today no longer contain this term and instead protect reporters engaged in all “newsgathering activities.”
“We are pleased that the new guidelines protect ‘newsgathering activities’ without qualification whenever the government seeks information related to a journalist’s work reporting and disseminating the news,” Brown explained.
The new guidelines also clarify other sections to ensure that all newsgathering records are covered and that exceptions to protections are as narrow as possible.
The Reporters Committee helped coordinate a News Media Dialogue Group of leading news industry leaders, who met with DOJ to express concerns about subpoenas and offer suggestions for improving the process to protect newsgathering and reporter-source relationships. Members of the group, which was put together by the Justice Department as a part of its new media subpoena practices last year, are Susan Page, Robin Sproul, Ken Strickland, Jerry Seib, Bill Keller, Jane Mayer, Karen Kaiser, Steve Coll, Leonard Downie, and Kurt Wimmer, in addition to Brown of the Reporters Committee.
About the Reporters Committee
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was founded by leading journalists and media lawyers in 1970, at a time when the nation’s news media faced a wave of government subpoenas asking reporters to name confidential sources. Today it provides pro bono legal advocacy, resources, and support to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists. Funded by corporate, foundation, and individual contributions, the Reporters Committee serves the nation’s leading news organizations; thousands of reporters, editors, and media lawyers; and many more who use our online and mobile resources. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.
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