Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New York court asked to safeguard journalists' right to protect sources

At issue - when privileged information (such as from a doctor, lawyer, clergy, etc) or classified information (such as government information, or legal information) is obtained by a reporter and then made public, and the matter is brought before a court, should a reporter have to reveal where the information came from?

It depends.

It depends on the information, it depends on the circumstances, it depends on the reporter, etc.  I can see it both ways.  What I can NOT see, is some blanket law that protects all reporters in all circumstances.

So, it is up to the "journalist" to determine if publishing the information is worth it.  Is the information a MUST KNOW for the public?  Is the source worth protecting?

Many times I read these stories and it appears as if the reporter took a short cut.  The reporter received the information, and it was big news, so they put it out there.  It is very similar to what can happen in a criminal investigation.  Often times, informants, or witnesses, provide valuable information that, if made public, would put their lives in jeopardy.  An investigator has to weigh the information against the risk to the source of the information.  One technique is to "wall off" the source of the information, and to find an alternative way to obtain it.  This can require great skill, and many do not do it well.  Just as in the case with reporters.

In the above case, a FOX reporter obtained information that is believed to have been given in VIOLATION of a gag order from a court.  Meaning, a judge ruled that information regarding the case is not to be discussed in public, or with outsiders.  The gag order applies to officers of the court and participants in the case (law enforcement, prosecutors, defense, witnesses, etc.).  What was the information that was reported?  That the shooter in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre sent a journal to his psychiatrist BEFORE the shooting.  Is this news that the public HAS to know?  I don't think so.  It can wait until the gag order is lifted - it will be "news" then too.  Her only reason was to trump other news media.

There are other cases where sources must be protected.  There are other cases where the public must be made aware...

Was he one of those cases?


LL said...

Building "wall cases" irritates the defense and they are legal and they work. You simply need to follow the rules and the court understands - so should the public (though most haven't a clue because they don't move in impolite circles with criminals).

To me, a gag order is a gag order and a reporter with hubris does not overrule the interests of the defendant and of due process.

At least from my view, reporters should not be compelled to reveal sources of information as a general rule. As you noted, there are exceptions. It would make sense for the law to be more specific and to test that in the High Court with the First Amendment to see if it holds water. I don't see the Obama Administration doing that consciously, but maybe they'll reach that end all the same.

Woodsterman (Odie) said...

If an informants identity has to be revealed the prove or disprove, innocence or guilt in court ... sorry Charley.