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Publication does not waive reporter’s privilege

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         NEVADA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Feb 4, 2000    

Publication does not waive reporter’s privilege

  • Because the Nevada “shield law” protects both confidential and non-confidential information, identifying and quoting a source in a published article does not waive protection from forced disclosure.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter did not waive the privilege provided under the Nevada “shield law” when he identified and quoted a source in published articles, and consequently cannot be forced to testify about the contents of statements made by that source at a deposition in a wrongful death case, the state Supreme Court ruled in late January.

The Nevada Supreme Court had previously ruled, through a three-justice panel in mid-April, that the shield law does not protect “non-confidential published information” because in the statute that grants reporters the privilege of avoiding forced disclosure, the word “published” refers not to information in general, but to the source of information only.

However, upon rehearing of the case, the full Nevada Supreme Court held otherwise. “The reporter’s privilege does not arise strictly as a result of confidence or a special relationship. This privilege arises when a journalist gathers information within his or her professional capacity for the purpose of dissemination,” the court explained.

“The news shield statute protects all information, not just confidential information, which is obtained by a reporter in his or her capacity as a journalist and which is intended for dissemination,” it noted. Thus, if Nevada’s general waiver statute applied to the news shield statute, “such a result vitiates the plain language of the news shield statute, which protects published information from compelled disclosure,” the court concluded.

Thus, the court held that the waiver statute does not apply to the privilege created by the news shield statute. Instead, “the waiver statute is limited to those privileges that center on confidential communications,” it concluded.

The court had ordered reporter Glenn Puit to answer questions at a deposition regarding whether statements Puit attributed to a Nevada Highway Patrol officer were, in fact, made by the officer and whether those published statements accurately reflected the officer’s words.

The articles in which Puit quoted the officer described a 1996 automobile accident that

left five people dead and resulted in the underlying wrongful death suit against the Nevada Highway Patrol. Survivors of the accident victims assert that the officer should have taken a drunken driver into custody, rather than taking him home the night before the fatal accident.

(Diaz v. Eighth Judicial District Court; Media Counsel: Kevin Doty, Las Vegas)

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© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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