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SPJ urges Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn lower court order that threatens journalists’ First Amendment rights


6/13/2024


CONTACT:
Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, SPJ National President, ashanti.blaize@gmail.com
Kim Tsuyuki, SPJ Communications Specialist, ktsuyuki@hq.spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists urges the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn a lower court order against Mississippi Today that threatens the First Amendment rights of journalists and Mississippians.

“SPJ is proud to stand up for journalists and journalism against those who try to silence them,” said SPJ National President Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins. “We urge the Mississippi Supreme Court to issue a ruling that, for the first time, expressly recognizes Mississippi journalists' right to protect their sources of information and their unpublished newsgathering materials.”

In July 2023, former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant sued for defamation, in part over since-retracted remarks from its CEO, Mary Margaret White. Later, editor-in-chief Adam Ganucheau and reporter Anna Wolfe were added as defendants. Mississippi Today declined to turn over confidential information, including sources, citing “reporter’s privilege.” However, last month, a lower court issued an order stating that Mississippi’s appellate courts have never recognized reporter’s privilege, so the newsroom was given a deadline to turn over any information that related to confidential sources. Mississippi Today has appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

“In a state with such little government accountability, Mississippians routinely learn about the actions of their public officials only because of journalism like ours. If this court order is upheld, every Mississippian would stand to lose a fuller understanding of how some leaders truly operate when their doors are closed and they think no one is watching,” says Ganucheau in an editor’s note on its website.

Cases such as this continue to serve as a reminder of why journalists need a federal shield law. Reporter’s privilege is a First Amendment right that is recognized by 40 states. In January, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the PRESS Act, which would shield journalists from having to disclose their sources except under limited circumstances. SPJ continues to urge the Senate to follow suit and pass the legislation quickly. Those who agree that the PRESS Act should be passed can call, write or message their senators, encouraging them to vote in favor of this important legislation.

“We will always fight for the First Amendment and those who seek truth and report it,” Blaize-Hopkins said. “Without journalists, citizens are kept in the dark, giving those in power no accountability and freedom to abuse that power.”

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.

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