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Wrestling hotline owner not protected by reporter's privilege

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Wrestling hotline owner not protected by reporter's privilege 08/10/98 THIRD CIRCUIT--In late July a panel of a federal appeals court…

Wrestling hotline owner not protected by reporter’s privilege

08/10/98

THIRD CIRCUIT–In late July a panel of a federal appeals court in Philadelphia held that an employee of World Championship Wrestling was not protected by a federal common law qualified reporter’s privilege against compelled disclosure of sources’ identities.

The three-judge panel unanimously held that the privilege did not protect WCW employee Mark Madden because he was, by his own admission, “an entertainer, not a reporter.” Madden produces tape-recorded commentaries on WCW events and wrestlers for a 900-number hotline. During a deposition in connection with an unfair business practices suit between the World Wrestling Federation and WCW, Madden refused to identify the sources of allegedly false and misleading statements, claiming that his sources were confidential and thus protected by the reporter’s privilege.

In an opinion written by Judge Richard Nygard, the court held that although deciding who was a journalist qualifying for the privilege was a “questionable procedure,” it nonetheless concluded that Madden’s activities could not be considered reporting.

“Madden’s work amounts to little more than creative fiction about admittedly fictional wrestling characters who have dramatic and ferocious-sounding names like ‘Razor Ramon’ and ‘Diesel,'” Nygard wrote. “As a creative fiction author, Madden’s primary goal is to provide advertisement and entertainment — not to gather news or disseminate information. It is clear from the record that Mr. Madden was not investigating ‘news,’ even were we to apply a generous definition of the word.”

The panel’s holding reversed the decision of a federal district court in Pittsburgh. The district court held Madden was protected by the federal common law privilege but did not rule on whether he was protected by Pennsylvania’s shield law. The appeals court did not rule on the extent of the state law’s protection. (In re Madden; Titan Sports, Inc. v. Turner Broadcasting Systems, Inc.; Media Counsel: David Dunn, New York)