The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed an affidavit with a Colorado district court urging the judge not to compel Fox News reporter Jana Winter to reveal the identities of confidential sources who gave her information from the notebook of movie-theater shooting suspect James Holmes.
The Reporters Committee is urging the court to thoroughly apply all elements of the Colorado Shield Law, which offers a qualified protection for journalists’ sources if the information sought is integral to the case, is not available from another source, and the need for that information outweighs the First Amendment interests of the reporter and the public. (See the Reporters Committee’s Colorado Privilege Compendium.)
Two more witnesses will testify on Wednesday as part of the court’s search for additional sources of the leakers’ identities. After that, if Winter is compelled to testify and does not identify her sources, she could be sent to jail.
“Careful application of all the elements of the Colorado Press Shield Law will ensure that journalists maintain the independence they need from the judicial process to report the news,” the affidavit stated. “A court order compelling Ms. Winter to divulge her confidential sources would frustrate the ability of reporters across the state to gather the information necessary to keep the public informed about the criminal justice system.”
“This case underscores why shield laws are so important,” noted Reporters Committee Chairman Tony Mauro, U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for The National Law Journal. “When courts and litigants go after reporters’ notes and sources, it harms the ability of reporters to receive information in the public interest. And that effect chills not only the reporter in this case, but others across the state and country.”
Winter, who is based in New York and was sent to Colorado last year to cover the shooting massacre at an Aurora movie theater, was given information by sources pertaining to a notebook suspect James Holmes reportedly send to his psychiatrist before the shootings occurred. The notebook was considered sealed evidence when Winter’s story about its contents ran, and defense attorneys are seeking to uncover her sources, citing the potential impact of the news on the trial.
About the Reporters Committee:
Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.
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