The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 20 U.S. media organizations filed a third-party brief supporting a court challenge to the police raid of documentary filmmakers Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey’s homes and Birney’s office in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Birney, McCaffrey, and U.S. filmmaker and RCFP steering committee member Alex Gibney made the documentary film “No Stone Unturned,” which explores the unsolved 1994 Loughinisland massacre in Northern Ireland. The film reveals a possible cover-up by police and features a previously unpublished government report that was sent to the filmmakers anonymously and identifies the likely suspects. Nearly a year after the film’s release at a New York film festival in 2017, police searched the filmmakers’ homes and office and seized a vast amount of journalistic work product (much of which was related to other projects), purportedly as part of an investigation into the alleged “theft” of the government report.
The Reporters Committee brief provides a survey of U.S. law as a point of comparison for the Belfast High Court. The brief discusses journalists’ First Amendment right to publish truthful information of public importance that they lawfully obtained. It also reviews U.S. law and federal guidelines that generally prohibit the search of a journalist’s office or home and seizure of journalistic work product. The brief also discusses the broad consensus under U.S. law that journalists must be protected from compelled disclosure of confidential sources.