NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · FIFTH CIRCUIT · Confidentiality/Privilege · June 15, 2007
Magistrate upholds subpoena over Hamas interview
June 15, 2007 · A federal magistrate judge on Wednesday refused to quash a subpoena for a Dallas journalist in a criminal case in which a Texas-based foundation is accused of providing funding for Hamas.
Steve McGonigle, a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, was subpoenaed to testify about a December 1999 interview with one of the founders of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, according to McGonigle’s motion. Yassin has since died.
McGonigle’s work produced two stories in June 2000 in which Yassin denied any relationship with the Holy Land Foundation. McGonigle also anonymously quoted a “senior Israeli official” who said the United States was reluctant to “act too close to the HLF” in the late 1990s.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney did not explain the denial in his one-page order.
In his motion, McGonigle argued that testimony about his interview with Yassin would be “irrelevant and immaterial.”
“Specifically, McGonigle was not an eye witness to any events or overt act alleged in the Superseding Indictment and has no personal knowledge of any such events,” the motion states.
Statements by Yassin to McGonigle would be “inadmissible hearsay,” the reporter’s attorneys argued in the motion.
McGonigle also argued that his conversations with and the identity of his confidential source are protected by a qualified reporter’s privilege recognized by the federal appeals court in Houston (5th Cir.), whose decisions are binding on the lower court in Dallas. That privilege prevents the “forced disclosure of confidential sources,” according to the motion.
Additionally, journalists who appear to have “acted as an agent for the U.S. Government will almost inevitably be placed at a substantially greater risk when on assignment in the Middle East,” McGonigle argued. He said this could result in less news for readers.
“To avoid this increased risk to McGonigle, news organizations such as The News may decide not to send him on future assignments to the Middle East, which may result in less news being available to report to U.S. readers,” the motion says.
At a minimum, McGonigle argued, his testimony should be limited to “his authentication of Sheikh Yassin’s quoted statements.”
(U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, Media Counsel: Russell F. Coleman, Belo Corp., Dallas) — SH