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Burke v. United States

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  1. First Amendment

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Date Filed: Jan. 2, 2024

Background: In May 2023, FBI agents raided the home of Timothy Burke and seized his electronic devices pursuant to a search warrant citing federal computer crime and wiretapping statutes.

In opposing Burke’s motion seeking the unsealing of the search warrant and the return of his property, now on appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the federal government cited the Florida reporter’s privilege law to suggest that Burke may not be a “professional journalist.”

Our Position: While taking no position on whether Burke is or isn’t a professional journalist, the Reporters Committee urges the Eleventh Circuit to apply a functional understanding of “journalist,” looking at the actions at issue — whether newsworthy information has been gathered for dissemination to the public — as opposed to the professional standing of the person seeking the privilege.

  • Under the First Amendment and laws protecting newsgathering, the correct approach for courts, legislatures, and other government bodies is to apply a functional understanding of “journalist.”
  • A functional understanding of press is necessary to protect the important work of stringers and freelancers who are essential to the newsgathering process.

Quote: “The fact that stringers furnish information to news organizations rather than publish or write their own stories does not strip them of their journalistic bona fides. To apply a too-narrow concept of journalism that would exclude them and other freelancers from First Amendment or legal protections for newsgathering would impair the free flow of information to the public.”

Update: On May 24, 2024, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Burke’s appeal, citing a lack of jurisdiction.

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