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Reporters privilege not allowed over interview in murder case

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
Reporters privilege not allowed over interview in murder case03/25/96 FLORIDA--No reporter's privilege exists unless confidential sources or information are involved,…

Reporters privilege not allowed over interview in murder case

03/25/96

FLORIDA–No reporter’s privilege exists unless confidential sources or information are involved, a three-judge panel of the District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach unanimously held in mid- March.

In January 1995, XS magazine published an article about a homicide allegedly committed by George Blancett, who has been charged with second degree murder. The article contained excerpts of the author’s interview with Blancett.

After the article appeared, the prosecution subpoenaed the author, Jeffrey Harrell, for his testimony. The trial court denied a motion to quash by Harrell and the magazine.

The Court of Appeal denied review of the trial court’s decision, finding that courts in Florida only apply a qualified reporter’s privilege to confidential sources and information. The court noted that the Florida Supreme Court rejected the privilege in two recent cases — one in which a reporter was an eyewitness and the other involving untelevised videotape.

The magazine had tried to distinguish those cases by arguing that the Supreme Court’s holdings only denied the privilege where a journalist was an eyewitness to a crime or held physical evidence of a crime.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the Reporters Committee, the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors and the Florida Press Association argued that subpoenas presented a serious burden to journalists’ newsgathering activities. A five-year study by the Reporters Committee found that Florida ranked fourth in the nation in the number of subpoenas served on the news media, the news organizations noted.

The magazine has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision. (Gold Coast Publications, Inc. v. Florida; Media Counsel: John Hargrove, Fort Lauderdale)