Briefs & Comments

  • February 22, 2017

    John Sepulvado, a journalist formerly with Oregon Public Broadcasting, was subpoenaed to testify about his interviews with participants in the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. In support of Sepulvado's motion to quash the subpoena, the Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in Portland, Ore., stressing the importance of recognizing a reporter's privilege and arguing that compelled testimony compromises the independence of the news media.

  • January 30, 2017

    John D’Anna, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, wrote a story several years ago based upon two interviews he had conducted with Father Joseph Terra, a victim of aggravated assault. D’Anna received a subpoena from the criminal defendant, requiring D’Anna to appear in court and produce all notes and materials related to the interview. D’Anna and Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. (“PNI”) filed a motion to quash the subpoena. The trial court denied PNI’s motion to quash, but the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s decision, finding that reporters have a First Amendment qualified privilege against the compelled disclosure of information obtained during newsgathering. The Arizona Supreme Court then accepted review.

  • August 19, 2016

    The Reporters Committee, joined by 57 news organizations, filed an amicus brief with the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, in support of New York Times reporter Frances Robles in her effort to fight a subpoena to testify about a jailhouse interview and turn over her notes. The amicus brief argued that the trial court that ordered her to testify did not give sufficient consideration to the protections in the New York Shield Law, which only allows subpoenas against journalists for non-confidential information when the information is highly relevant, meaning the case should "rise or fall" with the evidence. The brief argued that reporter's relations with their sources will be jeopardized if such information, and particularly information from jailhouse interviews with criminal defendants, is compelled without meeting that high standard.

  • July 29, 2016

    Reporter and filmmaker Mark Boal conducted a series of interviews with Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl that were published on the Serial podcast in 2015. Subsequently, the military prosecutor in the court martial of Sgt. Bergdahl informed Boal that he intended to subpoena Boal to obtain the recordings of the interviews in their entirety. Before the military subpoena was issued, Boal filed a complaint in the Central District of California arguing that the reporter's privilege should protect against the compelled disclosure of the recordings. The Reporters Committee and 36 other media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of Boal. The amicus brief explains the important policy reasons underpinning recognition of the reporter's privilege, argues that the reporter's privilege extends to Boal and asserts that the Court should address Boal's claims now, so that he can avoid unnecessary injury.

  • January 22, 2016

    Graham was convicted of robbery. In the course of the prosecution, the government requested a court order under the Stored Communications Act compelling Sprint, Graham's phone provider, to disclose 221 days of historical cell site location information (CSLI). Graham moved to suppress the CSLI, arguing that the warrantless acquisition of location information is an unconstitutional search. A Fourth Circuit panel held the order violated the Fourth Amendment. The case is now being reheard en banc. We argued that the Fourth Circuit "should consider the First Amendment interests that warrantless acquisition of communications information implicates when it resolves the Fourth Amendment questions presented by Graham’s appeal." The Fourth Amendment is rooted in the Framers' concerns about safeguarding printers and the press. As a result, Fourth Amendment protections must be applied with rigor when First Amendment rights are at stake.

  • January 16, 2016

    A Delaware bankruptcy judge demanded that more than 100 individuals involved in the bankruptcy proceedings concerning Molycorp Inc. disclose all their contacts with any Bloomberg reporters in the last 60 days, after he saw several articles that he felt contained information subject to a confidentiality order. The Reporters Committee argued in a letter to the judge on behalf of a media coalition that the order is overly broad and interferes with reporters’ First Amendment freedoms.

  • August 27, 2015

    Davis is challenging the constitutionality of a provision of the Stored Communications Act that permits law enforcement to obtain a court order to compel disclosure of historical location information by a cellular phone service provider. The en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the disclosure was not a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Davis is seeking a writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court. The compelled disclosure of historical location data implicates important First and Fourth Amendment rights. Location data can reveal sensitive, private information, including information about associational and expressive activities that are protected by the First Amendment. Fourth Amendment protections must be applied with particular rigor when First Amendment rights are at stake.

  • February 17, 2015

    The Reporters Committee filed comments regarding the proposed amendment to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 concerning "remote access" searches of electronic media. The proposed amendment to Rule 41 offers insufficient safeguards for newsgathering and other First Amendment-protected activity. Remote-access searches of journalists’ computers can reveal a variety of confidential information, including lists of contacts, work product, and reporter-source communications. These searches would violate the Privacy Protection Act and the First and Fourth Amendments. The proposed amendment offers insufficient protection to journalists who use encryption and anonymity tools.

  • January 15, 2015

    A libel plaintiff suing a local FOX station in Chicago sought to obtain a news producer's communications with the FOX in-house attorney. FOX argued that those communications should not have to be released because of the attorney-client privilege. The plaintiff argued that such a privilege is not recognized in Illinois. The Reporters Committee argued that protection of communications between news reporters and producers and their in-house counsel is essential to preserving the integrity of confidential pre-publication legal advice. If neither reporters nor lawyers can trust in that confidentiality, reporters may not feel comfortable being completely open with the lawyer, who in turn cannot provide the best advice. Furthermore, the brief points out that it is impractical to expect that counsel will always communicate only with the most powerful executives at the news organization and not with producers.

  • March 14, 2014

    Patch.com 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.

  • September 4, 2013

    The Reporters Committee and 18 other news organizations filed a brief in the ACLU's case seeking a preliminary injunction against the National Security Agency's collection of telephone toll records from communication service providers. The media groups stressed to the court how such surveillance affects newsgathering and interferes with the ability of reporters to promise confidentiality to their sources.

  • August 30, 2013

    The Reporters Committee led a group of 38 media organizations in supporting the appeal of Jana Winter, a Fox News reporter who is contesting a Colorado subpoena in New York court, in the James Holmes theater shooting case. An expedited appeal is being considered by the New York Court of Appeals, the state's high court. The brief argues that a New York reporter should be protected by the New York shield law, which offers greater protection than the Colorado shield law.

  • May 16, 2013

    Fox News reporter Jana Winter is appealing a decision by a New York judge to enforce a subpoena from a Colorado court demanding that she testify about confidential sources who gave her a notebook of Colorado theater shooting defendant James Holmes' writings. In a brief joined by 42 other news organizations, the Reporters Committee argued that the lower court erred in failing to adequately consider New York's strong public policy protecting journalists and their confidential sources when it applied the law governing subpoena requests from out-of-state jurisdictions.

  • May 14, 2013

    The Reporters Committee and 51 news organizations wrote to the Department of Justice, vigorously protesting the overbroad subpoena of two months of phone records of the Associated Press.

  • May 8, 2013

    Hadeed Carpet Cleaning filed a defamation suit in Virginia against several anonymous reviewers for comments they posted on Yelp. Hadeed alleges that the reviewers were not actually customers and that their allegations were defamatory, and sought a subpoena to identify them. The trial court issued the subpoena and Yelp appealed to the Virginia Court of Appeals.