Monday, November 05, 2007

Is There Really A 'Reporter's Privilege'?

Should reporters have a privilege to not divulge their sources, much like a doctor and a patient, or a lawyer and a client?

Depends on who you ask.

George Freeman, assistant general counsel for the New York Times, said a "sleight of hand by the media bar" may have created something that, in terms of legal decisions, isn't really there.

But precedent aside: Should reporters have a privilege? And who does that extend to?

Unlike doctors and lawyers, journalists are not licensed by the state in any way -- and we're seemingly proud of it. "Anyone can be a journalist!" we proclaim, while quickly adding under our breath that there's a big difference between the "professional" journalist who gets a paycheck from a big media company and the "amateur" who gives the professional a bad reputation (or in this day and age, the MSM, Big-J Journalist versus the expendable blogger).

So if journalists had a privilege to ignore a subpoena, who would that extend to? A newspaperman? A broadcast anchor? A blogger for Time? A blogger for him or herself? A book author with a contract? A book author without one?

It gets hazy real fast.

In The Editorialiste's opinion, the current, working standard for the lower state courts seems most appropriate: Reporters get off the hook unless they are key to the case. Because, establishing neutrality aside, reporters are a case's best witnesses every time by nature -- and our time shouldn't be exploited just because we are paid to pay attention.

What do you think?

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