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SPJ supports Tennessee United Methodist Communications reporter in fight against subpoena


For immediate release

Kevin Smith, SPJ President, (304) 365-4864, ksmith@spj.org
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215, ascott@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is granting United Methodist Communications $1,000 in an effort to stop a subpoena for unedited interview footage, which was recorded by reporter Kathy Gilbert.

Through the Legal Defense Fund grant, SPJ supports UMC’s assertion that the footage is protected by the Tennessee shield law for the press.

Officials from Nashville, Tenn., subpoenaed Gilbert in July for the unedited video gathered during an interview she conducted with illegal immigrant Juana Villegas, who was arrested during a 2008 traffic stop and says she was mistreated during her incarceration.

During the interview, Villegas, who was nine months pregnant at the time of her arrest, recounted going into labor in her cell and being transported to the local hospital where authorities shackled her to a bed before and after the birth. The interview was incorporated into the news service’s segment “Advocates for immigrants speak out against treatment of pregnant women,” a story that focused on the efforts of Justice For Our Neighbors, a network sponsored by the United Methodist Church.

Counsel for the city sought to obtain the unedited footage of Gilbert’s interview after Villegas recently brought suit against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County for the treatment she received in prison after her arrest. UMC filed a motion to stop the subpoena in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee.

The court’s review of the motion will focus on whether the qualified privilege of Tennessee’s shield law extends to a journalist who works for a religious media group. Tennessee law provides that a trial court cannot require a person employed by the “news media” or “press” to disclose “any information or the source of any information obtained for publication or broadcast.”

The SPJ Legal Defense Fund aids journalists in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment. Grant money can also be used to initiate and support litigation that enforces public access to government records and proceedings. For more information about the SPJ Legal Defense Fund, or to donate, visit www.spj.org/ldf.asp.

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.


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