Appeals court finds no constitutional privilege for reporter
MINNESOTA — A reporter has no constitutional or statutory privilege not to testify about a crime witnessed while covering a story, a state appeals court ruled in mid-November.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals in St. Paul held that Jesse Rosen, a reporter for the University of Minnesota campus newspaper the Minnesota Daily, had no First Amendment privilege available to him to avoid testifying in a criminal trial related to an assault he witnessed.
In October 1993 Rosen was assigned to cover a rally on the university campus designed to oppose an anticipated “neo-Nazi” rally. While covering the event, Rosen witnessed a physical confrontation between anti-Nazi protesters and two people suspected of being neo-Nazis.
After he co-wrote an article about the rallies and the assault, Rosen was served with a subpoena requiring him to testify at the trial of a suspect in the confrontation. The trial court refused to quash Rosen’s subpoena, and Rosen appealed to the Court of Appeals.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals also stated that the Minnesota Reporters Shield Law does not apply to Rosen, because the shield law only protects reporters from compelled disclosure of confidential sources. The court concluded that Rosen was only being asked to testify about events he personally witnessed, and he was not at risk of revealing any confidential sources.
The court specifically rejected the newspaper’s argument that the state shield law provides the news media with a privilege not to disclose unpublished information.
The newspaper is considering an appeal of the ruling, according to the Associated Press.
(Minnesota v. Knutson; Media Counsel: Marshall H. Tanick, Minneapolis)