Thursday, December 09, 2004

Federal Appeals Court Weighs Journalistic Privilege

The New York Times reports here on arguments that took place before a Federal Appeals Court over whether journalists (as opposed to non-journalists) have a privilege to refuse to obey a court order to reveal confidential sources.

While driving and listening to the radio, (I'm pretty sure it was NPR), I heard someone claim that one of the First Amendment's purposes was to protect members of the press.

I completely agree that the First Amendment protects the press's freedom of expression.

But this raises the question: Who, precisely, is the press? And does this imply that the "non-press" (whatever that is) are not protected?

Luckily, courts have been loathe to even attempt to differentiate between which entities have a right to freedom of the press and which don't, and have held that all should enjoy freedom of the press.

Consequently, in the eyes of the law, there can be no difference in the legal rights between a New York Times reporter, and a lone blogger with a miniscule audience.

If "journalists" have a privilege to refuse to obey a court order to reveal a confidential source, that privilege must extend to anyone who disseminates ideas to others. (Virtually everyone.) If my elderly aunt who disseminates ideas (she gossips to her friends) and I (who blog) don't have this privilege why should a Times reporter?

How in the world do you draw a principled distinction? Moreover, do we want to empower government to determine which disseminators of ideas are worthy of journalistic privilege and which are not?


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