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TV station sued over possession of proprietary information

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    News Media Update         TEXAS         Confidentiality/Privilege    

TV station sued over possession of proprietary information

  • A financial services company in Texas has sued WOAI-TV of San Antonio to recover “confidential and proprietary” information it claims was stolen, given to the broadcast station, and used in a news report.

April 30, 2004 — A Fortune 500 company has filed a lawsuit against a San Antonio, Texas-based television station, its owner and a reporter, alleging that the station possesses illegally obtained proprietary documents. The company is seeking a return of the documents, as well as the identity of the person who gave them to the station.

USAA, an insurance and financial services company located in San Antonio, Texas, filed the lawsuit on April 26 in San Antonio against WOAI-TV and its parent company, Clear Channel Communications. USAA claimed that the station has “confidential and proprietary” information that was taken from the company without permission.

Reporter Tanji Patton produced a story, aired Feb. 25, about USAA’s use of foreign contractors to perform some of its work. USAA claims that Patton obtained documents from former and current employees to investigate the story, in violation of the Texas Theft Liability Act.

According to an April 26 article in the San Antonio Business Journal , WOAI-TV Vice President and General Manager Don Perry said the lawsuit “is focused on certain documents that were properly obtained in the normal course of investigative reporting. As a matter of ethics and policy, as well as constitutional protections, we do not disclose the identity of our sources who speak under the condition of anonymity,” Perry said.

Although Texas does not have a shield law that protects reporters against compelled disclosure of source identities, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a qualified privilege of protection under the First Amendment.

Generally, the news media cannot be held liable for receiving documents from a confidential source, even if the source illegally obtained them, as long as the journalist did not encourage others to steal or participate in the theft.

KM


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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