The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, arguing that a proposed government blanket prohibition on ever reporting the identities of Military Commissions panelists is an unconstitutional prior restraint on publication.
Understanding that the need for security and other narrowly tailored concerns can cause a court to limit some disclosure of information, the brief notes, however that government’s proposal is far too broad, as it continues this restriction indefinitely after the trial, and would impose sanctions and other disciplinary action against journalists who legally obtain the information, even if from the panelists themselves.
The order, the brief argued, “cannot survive constitutional scrutiny.”
“Access to jurors has always been critical to good journalism, and it is even more important in a military commission situation, where the government must take significant steps to assure the world that justice will be served,” said Reporters Committee Interim Executive Director Gregg P. Leslie.
Using examples from coverage of recent high-profile trials, the brief noted that post-trial interviews with jurors can provide valuable insight. For example, interviews with discharged jurors helped the public understand verdicts in the John Edwards, Casey Anthony and Jerry Sandusky trials. “And the public benefit of juror interviews is no less evident in news reports of terrorism prosecutions much like the ones at issue here.”
“Journalists rely on … interaction with discharged jurors to provide the public with vital information about the judicial system. To prevent this contact … destroys a critical newsgathering avenue,” the brief stated.
Should the court permit the government’s protective order against identifying the panelists, the Reporters Committee argues that it at least be narrowly tailored so as not to become an indefinite prohibition or one that punishes journalists for reporting legally obtained information.
The brief is posted on the Reporters Committee website.
About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
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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