Freedom of the press triumphed today as the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled that Fox News reporter Jana Winter should not be compelled to reveal the sources for her reporting about the notebook of accused Aurora, Colo., theater shooter James Holmes, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“This decision is wonderful news for Jana and for reporters across the U.S.,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. “And it could not come at better time. With the Department of Justice reforming its media subpoena guidelines, New York Times reporter Jim Risen continuing his fight to protect his sources, and Congress considering a federal shield law, the New York high court has reminded us all that there is no part of freedom of the press as important to the flow of information to the public as defense of reporter-source confidentiality.”
The Reporters Committee, joined by 38 news organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Winter, as well as earlier affidavits in both New York and Colorado. The New York court had been asked to overturn a subpoena issued in Colorado that sought the sources of Winters’ story about a notebook Holmes had reportedly sent to his psychiatrist shortly before the mass shooting in which 12 people were killed. Winters lost the first round in the New York courts but that decision was overturned here on appeal.
“We were particularly heartened by the majority’s strong position on how important the state’s shield law is to its history of media freedom, and how proud the justices are of having one of the strongest shield laws in the nation,” Brown added.
The court’s decision noted, “an order from a New York court directing a reporter to appear in another state where, as here, there is a substantial likelihood that she will be compelled to identify sources who have been promised confidentiality would offend our strong public policy – a common law, statutory and constitutional tradition that has played a significant role in this State becoming the media capital of the country if not the world.”
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.
Related Reporters Committee resources:
· Brief: In re Holmes v. Winter
· Brief: In re Holmes v. Winter (N.Y.Ct.App.)