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RCFP urges SDNY to modify order that could impair journalists’ newsgathering rights

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  1. Newsgathering

Update: On Sept. 23, 2021, a federal judge denied the motion to reconsider and modify the order the court issued in August.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is urging a federal district court in New York to reconsider and modify its order implicating journalists’ newsgathering rights in a case stemming from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

An exclusive report published in July 2021 by Yahoo! News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff included details from a deposition transcript subject to a protective order, prompting the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to issue an order in August 2021 directing attorneys in the case to submit information in an inquiry into the leak.

In a letter sent to the district court on Sept. 9, Reporters Committee attorneys wrote that any inquiry the court conducts should be carefully circumscribed to avoid infringing on the First Amendment rights of the news media. The letter argues that, by sweeping in communications and records from confidential sources that do not implicate the protective order, the court’s order could impair journalists’ right to gather the news, sources’ rights to speak anonymously and the public’s right to receive information on matters of public concern.

“Although this Court has a legitimate interest in investigating a possible violation of a protective order, we urge that the terms of the Order be reconsidered and modified so that it does not improperly interfere with newsgathering activities and communications,” the Reporters Committee’s letter states. “Government inquiries seeking to identify confidential sources can chill other sources from supplying journalists with information about matters of public concern in the future.”