Court vacates decision that limited reporter's privilege

Court vacates decision that limited reporter’s privilege

06/14/99

SECOND CIRCUIT–The federal Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) in early June vacated a September 1998 panel order that demanded NBC turn over outtakes from a “Dateline NBC” segment on biased police stops. The court will consider NBC’s petition for a rehearing on the matter before the entire appellate court.

The three-judge panel’s 1998 order stated that no reporter’s privilege exists under federal law for non-confidential information. The order also stated that the court would continue to recognize a qualified privilege for reporters under the First Amendment that allows them to protect confidential sources and information, at least in civil cases. But the “balance of interests is crucially different” when “the information sought to be protected is not confidential,” the panel held. The panel upheld lower court orders directing NBC to produce the unbroadcast videotape and holding NBC in contempt for failing to turn it over.

The original subpoenas were issued in a civil rights claim brought by Albert and Mary Gonzales against a Louisiana deputy sheriff. The network is not a party to the case.

In vacating the panel’s order, the court directed federal district courts under its authority to “rule in accordance with the law as it existed preceding the panel’s opinion in this case.” (Gonzales v. National Broadcasting Co., Inc.; Media Counsel: Susan Weiner, New York)

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