Journalists’ ability to protect sources, newsgathering materials receives favorable outcome in California federal court

A journalist is only as good as his word. When a source considers sharing information with a journalist, the source often assesses its faith in the reporter. Trust becomes the currency exchanged between the two parties.

The reporter’s privilege — a journalist’s right to refuse to comply with subpoenas seeking documents or testimony from their sources or newsgathering materials — is an important tool used by those in the media to secure the trust of their sources. However, the reporter’s privilege is not absolute.

The reporter’s privilege is a strong but also fragile tool to ensure trust with sources. The privilege, emanating from common law, the First Amendment, and state law in many jurisdictions, can be waived if a journalist shares some information with a party in a lawsuit.

What constitutes a waiver and what a waiver actually means has not been ironed out in most states. But a California federal court recently found that waiver of the privilege did not occur even though the journalist complied with a portion of the subpoena. Although this is only one decision from one lower court in one state, it is a welcomed sight for journalists and media lawyers.

For more, please read my article on the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ website here.

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