SPJ, 59 other groups, urge court to order return of journalist’s equipment and work
J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President, 212-283-0843, email@example.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists signed a friend of the court (or amicus) brief in support of San Francisco journalist Bryan Carmody, whose equipment was seized May 10 by the San Francisco Police Department.
After a hearing today, Carmody tweeted “I am pleased that everything that the San Francisco Police took from my office and home will be returned today. This includes the police report, video, records, notes, computers and personal electronics.”
He continued, “Our main goal remains prevailing on our motion to quash so that nothing seized can be used against myself, North Bay Television News or our sources. We also look forward to learning the basis for the search warrants being issued.”
The 60 groups – which include SPJ national and the SPJ Northern California chapter – argue that the actions of police essentially shut down Carmody’s newsgathering abilities, which is how he makes a living, and endangered other confidential sources. Additionally, The California Constitution and California statutory law clearly prohibit the use of a search warrant to seize journalistic work product.
"By confiscating Mr. Carmody's equipment, the San Francisco Police Department effectively denied him the ability to work as a freelance journalist. This flies in the face of the spirit of the First Amendment, as well as contradicting California Constitutional law," said SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio.
Carmody was in court today requesting the improperly seized equipment be returned.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports that nothing else was decided today, and the court is scheduling another briefing on Carmody’s motion and the motion of RCFP, First Amendment Coalition and SPJ Northern California Chapter to unseal search warrant affidavits.
Both federal laws and internal policy at the U.S. Department of Justice limit the seizure of work product and documentary materials to preserve the flow of confidential information necessary in effective newsgathering. The federal statute is the Privacy Protection Act of 1980. As Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) explained shortly before it passed, “By exposing the work product of reporters to the roving eye of any policeman who has obtained a search warrant to examine newsroom documents, [the execution of a warrant] threatens to dry up the confidential sources of information which form the backbone of investigative journalism.”
A confidential or anonymous source is someone who has identified themselves to a journalist, but the journalist promises not to reveal the source’s identity in exchange for important information. Sources ask to be confidential for many reasons, which can include protecting everything from their jobs, their families or their lives.
The SPJ Code of Ethics takes the topic of anonymous sources seriously. The Code says, “Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.”
SPJ National last week condemned the over-the-top actions of the San Francisco Police Department and called for Carmody’s belongings to be returned to him. The SPJ NorCal Chapter also supports Carmody.
“One expects this level of disregard for the value of press freedom in an autocratic country without the First Amendment,” Tarquinio said Monday. “In this country, journalists have the right to gather and report on information. They also have the right to protect their sources.
The seizure of any journalist’s notes or equipment sets a dangerous precedent.”
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the SPJ Foundation.