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Phillip Morris wins access to ABC News reporters' records

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Phillip Morris wins access to ABC News reporters' records02/07/95 VIRGINIA -- In late January, a judge stayed his own order…

Phillip Morris wins access to ABC News reporters’ records

02/07/95

VIRGINIA — In late January, a judge stayed his own order requiring credit card, telephone, airline and rental car companies to release the records of ABC News reporters in the libel case brought against the network by Phillip Morris.

Judge T.J. Markow of Richmond Circuit Court also agreed to hear rearguments on his order requiring ABC to reveal the identity of its confidential source, “Deep Cough,” to Phillip Morris. The rehearing is set for March 1.

In his original order, Markow ruled that the state’s qualified reporter’s privilege extends to records of a reporter’s business transactions kept by a third party. In his order, the judge stated, “A reporter’s promise to maintain confidentiality would be meaningless if his movements while investigating were open to scrutiny to glean the identity of his confidential source.”

In Virginia, which has no shield law, a reporter’s qualified privilege can be overcome by demonstrating that the information sought is relevant to the claim; that it cannot be obtained by alternative means; and that a compelling interest in obtaining the information exists.

Despite recognizing that the privilege applied, Markow ruled that the tobacco company had overcome the privilege in both instances.

The stay regarding the third party records is indefinite in length. However, American Express had already released its records before learning of the stay. Markow then issued an order barring Phillip Morris from acting on the information it received from American Express. (Phillip Morris Companies v. American Broadcasting Companies; Media Counsel: William G. Broaddus, Richmond)