Qualified privilege

A qualified privilege balances the journalist's interest in confidentiality with the interest of the party seeking the reporter's evidence. A qualified privilege can be overcome if the opposing interest is sufficiently important. To overcome a qualified privilege, the party will generally have to show that the information in the reporter's possession is essential to the case, that it goes to the heart of the matter before the court and that it cannot be obtained from an alternative, non-journalist source.

Court finds reporter's privilege not waived after complying with portion of subpoena

Michael Lambert | Reporter's Privilege | News | December 18, 2015
December 18, 2015

What constitutes a waiver of the reporter’s privilege is largely unchartered territory for courts, leaving journalists with little case law to rely on when determining whether to respond to subpoenas.

This week a California federal court shed light on the scope of waiver by recognizing a journalist’s right to refuse to produce unpublished notes even after disclosing some components of her reporting. The court also held the defendant did not overcome the qualified reporter’s privilege because it did not exhaust alternative means for obtaining the requested information.

The shield law issue emerged out of a class action lawsuit filed in 2014 by the estates of 78 miners who died in a 1968 explosion at the No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the Consolidation Coal Company, owners of the mine, for fraud, concealment, and nondisclosure.

Media organizations urge Senate to vote on federal shield bill

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 13, 2014
June 13, 2014

Spurred by a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen – which could result in Risen going to jail or being fined for not naming his source – media organizations stress that now is the time to pass a federal shield bill.

More than 70 news organizations – the Reporters Committee included – sent a letter to the Senate majority and minority leaders earlier this week, urging them to schedule a vote on the shield bill.

Colorado considers bill to bolster reporter shield law

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | January 16, 2014
January 16, 2014

The Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee considered a bill Wednesday that would strengthen the Colorado reporter shield law.

Colorado Sen. Bernie Herpin introduced the bill after Colorado courts threatened jail time for Fox News reporter Jana Winter if she did not reveal her confidential sources. The committee delayed a vote on the bill until a later date.

New York appeals court allows Colorado subpoena on Fox News reporter to stand

Nicole Lozare | Reporter's Privilege | News | August 20, 2013
August 20, 2013

A Fox News reporter lost another round in her battle to keep her sources confidential regarding her exclusive story about the notebook of accused Colorado theater shooter James Holmes.

The Supreme Court Appellate Division (1st Dept.) ruled Tuesday that a New York judge was correct to enforce a Colorado subpoena compelling Jana Winter to testify in the Holmes trial.

Risen lawyers ask Justice Department to drop subpoena

Jeff Zalesin | Reporter's Privilege | News | August 8, 2013
August 8, 2013

The Department of Justice should take a cue from its own recommendations and drop its subpoena to reporter James Risen, his lawyers argued in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday.

Senate Judiciary Committee amends shield bill to strengthen protections, but defers final vote

Jeff Zalesin | Reporter's Privilege | News | August 1, 2013
August 1, 2013

The Senate Judiciary Committee strengthened the proposed federal shield law today by incorporating some of the Justice Department's recommendations on protecting journalists, but then delayed a final vote on the bill.

Holder expresses support for federal shield bill amendments adding judicial role to notice process

Jeff Zalesin | Reporter's Privilege | News | July 30, 2013
July 30, 2013

The Department of Justice is backing a bipartisan effort to turn parts of the department's report on news media policies into federal shield law provisions, Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

N.C. religious reporter recently arrested while covering protest to fight charges

Amy Zhang | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 17, 2013
June 17, 2013

A Charlotte Observer religion reporter recently arrested while covering a "Moral Mondays" protest before the Raleigh General Assembly will fight to have the charges dropped at his August court date.

Veteran reporter Tim Funk was arrested on June 10 and charged with trespassing and failure to disperse. Funk was one of over 80 people arrested at the protest that day. The demonstration was part of a weekly protest led by the North Carolina NAACP that began in April after the legislature passed a series of bills that slashed benefits for citizens and raised taxes.

New York judge rules reporter's personal observations are protected

Amy Zhang | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 14, 2013
June 14, 2013

A U.S. District Court judge in New York ruled that a New York Times reporter cannot be forced to testify about his personal observations in a wrongful arrest case involving two Occupy Wall Street protestors.

The judge ruled that Times freelancer Colin Moynihan's personal observations were protected by the state's strong shield law. City officials subpoenaed Moynihan to testify about whether police officers warned two protestors to move out of the park before arresting them on Jan. 10, 2012 at Zuccotti Park.

New York trial court quashes subpoena against Wall Street Journal for reporter's notes, phone records

Jeff Zalesin | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 4, 2013
June 4, 2013

A New York trial court ruled that The Wall Street Journal does not have to turn over years' worth of e-mail messages and reporter notes to business mogul Sheldon Adelson because those documents are protected by the state's shield law.