SPJ joins amicus brief to fight restrictions on N.J. shield law
For Immediate Release:
Hagit Limor, SPJ President, (513) 852-4012,
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Director, (317) 927-8000 ext. 211,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is fighting to protect a state reporter’s shield law that could be weakened and lead to required disclosure of privileged information.
The New Jersey Supreme Court will decide whether the state’s shield law protects blogger Shellee Hale after she posted defamatory comments on a message board about Too Much Media, a management software company.
An amicus brief, which SPJ joined, was filed Dec. 7 by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The brief does not support Hale’s claim to qualify as a journalist under the shield law. Rather, it seeks to ensure that the court does not improperly narrow the definition of a journalist under the statute.
Hale launched a campaign in 2007 against what she perceived as criminal activity in the online adult entertainment industry. She conducted her anti-pornography efforts through a website called Pornafia. The site reported information Hale obtained regarding alleged technical and criminal activity in the adult entertainment industry.
Too Much Media sued Hale after she wrote about a suspected security breach at the company. Hale defended on the grounds that she qualified as a journalist under the state’s shield law and could therefore refuse to reveal her sources.
A trial court ruled that Hale could not invoke the state’s shield law to protect the identity of her sources because Hale had no affiliation with a “legitimate” news publication and her message board postings bore no similarity to traditional forms of journalism. Last April, the state appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
The appellate court decision established restrictive criteria that limit who qualifies as a journalist. In addition, the appellate court implied that a trial court must conduct a hearing to determine whether a person invoking the shield law is more than a “self-proclaimed” journalist.
The amicus brief argues that the state must interpret the shield law broadly enough to include online content providers who have the intent when gathering information to disseminate it and contribute to the free exchange of ideas. The brief also argues that the appellate court made a mistake in deciding that a person who invokes the reporter’s privilege is then subject to a full preliminary hearing to determine eligibility for the protection.
A hearing would defeat the purpose of a privilege while giving the party seeking the information a means to do so during examination.
In one of its roles as a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases. Most recently, SPJ joined an amicus brief in FCC v. AT&T.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.