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March 05, 2005

CJR on the Threats to Journalists’ Privilege

These are perilous days for journalists’ privilege. So says Columbia Journalism Review. Journalists and media rights advocates are nervous about the Plame case becoming a test case for media privilege, according to a long article by Douglas McCollam in CJR.

McColllam writes:

“As a general rule courts believe they have the right to “hear every man’s evidence,” and privileges against testifying are not favored in the law. Over time only a few such exemptions have been endorsed, including the attorney-client privilege, the doctor-patient privilege, the priest-penitent privilege, the spousal privilege, and, most recently, the therapist privilege. The Constitution also forbids compelling people to testify against themselves.

[The defendants claim that] “reporter’s privilege should now be added to that list, but fashioning a reporter’s privilege presents special challenges.”

But it is becoming more and more difficult to determine who is a journalist, particularly with bloggers now providing an additional flank.

The article goes on:

“All the other recognized privileges involve inherently private information given to members of accredited professions. Journalism, by comparison, trades in public information and is less a profession than an activity in which anyone can engage. As the courts in both Branzburg and Plame have asked, Who qualifies as a “journalist” for purposes of the privilege?”

If you are interested in the Plame case or the issue of journalist privilege, this is a good read, understanding that it is written with the bias of a media trade publication.

Posted by Jim at March 5, 2005 07:35 AM

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