It is an essential achievement of justice that all evidence gets presented so that fair rulings can come from the courts. Investigators or criminal activities have the responsibility of seeing all evidence concerning criminal acts. However, some feel compelled to gather information sought out by journalists instead of doing their job. Reporters are therefore obliged to give confidential information they have through served subpoenas from attorneys (Rodney, 1423). It becomes a tussle between protecting the source's confidentiality and risking a jail term for obstruction of justice (Weinberg, 149). The paper is an overview of the reporters' privilege and political factors that led to the enactment of the law.
Back in 1972, Justice Byron White, under the USA Supreme Court last considered the reporter's privilege constitutional (Newman, 463). It was during the Branzburg and Hayes case. The case was to determine whether a newsman is required to present himself and testify in court even though they have freedom of speech and the First Amendment (Weinberg, 149). Branzsburg, a reporter for the Courier-Journal, was required to present himself in court with his observation on drug-related cases (Newman, 463). He promised the confidentiality and protection of his sources of their identity (Rodney, 1423). However, he was ordered by a state trial court to answer questions after rejecting the Kentucky reporter's privilege. It led to a prolonged ruling concerning the First Amendment, journalists, and their sources.
However, Justice White came up to a ruling that a newsman is not subjected to appear and testify in a court hearing. They are not required to undermine their First Amendment privileges guaranteeing freedom of speech and press (Weinberg, 149). Journalists are under a federal common law that protects them in civil and criminal cases. Therefore, they have a right to deny disclosure of their sources under the first amendment privileges. The court can use alternative means to obtain the information under compelling interests (Rodney, 1424).
In Zurcher v. Stanford Daily's case, the issue at hand was the issuance of a search warrant on a reporter having criminal evidence (Newman, 463). A student newspaper had published images of an event where demonstrators and the police clashed. As a criminal trial, the evidence was crucial in getting justice and bringing the perpetrators to book. Since the First Amendment protects press freedom, it was hard to bring justice for the police officers deprived of their rights (Weinberg, 149). Search warrants cannot get through to those not engaged in criminal activities. Press interests are safeguarded in the First Amendment and protect them from interference in providing news to the public or search warrants in their offices.
Justice White provided the ruling on the matter concerning the case alongside three other judges (Newman, 463). He rules that warrant issuance is not prevented by the First Amendment, even when the owner of the evidence material is not a criminal suspect (Weinberg, 149). Attainment of justice can get undermined by the restriction of search warrants for evidence available from non-suspects. He also ruled that subpoenas take a short period to be served compared to search warrants. It is essential to use them before the evidence is destroyed or lost. Newspapers get safeguarded from interference and the ability to gather and disseminate information in a proper gathering of information.
Both rulings from Justice White are, in contrary, the proposals from the other courts. First, he objected to the rejection of the existence of the press freedom by the Supreme Court in Branzburg's case (Rodney, 1425). The Supreme Court is one of the highest courts, and its rulings are usually non-appellate. The court aimed at compelling the reporter to provide the information so that justice can get attained. However, White ruled that reporters are not required to undermine their First Amendment privileges guaranteeing freedom of speech and press (Weinberg, 149). It was contrary to the ruling of the previous court. Public interest disclosure can only get protected by safeguarding the confidentiality of informants and sources (Rodney, 1428). Justice White, therefore, placed the state in a dilemma and an open field between providing constitutional rights or justice to its citizens.
In the Zurcher v. Stanford Daily case, Justice White also provided a contradictory ruling by a District Court. The district court had ruled that search warrants cannot get conducted to those not engaged in criminal activities. Also, press interests are safeguarded in the First Amendment (Weinberg, 149) and protect them from interference in providing news to the public or search warrants in their offices. The police officer would have gained no justice. Therefore, White provides a contrary rule subjecting the press to be searched on time using subpoenas with little interference of their operations.
There is clear evidence of political influence on the decision. Justice White is, on the one hand, supporting the Reporter's Privileges and on the other hand, contradicting them (Erik, 1). In the Branzburg case, he went ahead and made sure that freedom of the press got upheld by protecting evidence of criminal activity. In the other case, he is seen ruling out the existence of the press freedom by subjecting the search of evidence from them (Rodney, 1424). However, he makes sure that the evidence gathered with lenience on the press. Public interests are at hand in his ruling. First, he preserves the rights of an informant that may or may not be part of the criminal act in the first case (Rodney, 1424). In the second case, he suppresses the reporter's privilege to bring justice for the state police by gathering information from the press. The rule of law is at play to gain public approval. He used the same bill in contradiction to one another during two related cases making his ruling inconsistent and under the influence (Erik, 1).
Justice can be brought about through fair rulings and consistent judgment concerning the constitution. The fundamental rights and privileges of citizens should not get abused or neglect to bring justice (Weinberg, 149). Justice White should have maintained his opinion on accepting or denying the existence of the reporter's privileges when ruling the two cases. Public interest can be achieved by acting justly in any condition but not infringing on other citizen's rights (Erik, 1). Any evidence related to criminal justice is vital in determining rulings in court. The US Constitution should be amended to make it clear whether the First Amendment is a hindrance to fairness in civil and criminal cases (Weinberg, 149). In Zurcher v. Stanford Daily case, the evidence from the photographic images was significant in bringing justice to the injured police. On the other hand, the protection of informants deprives the investigators of getting full information regarding a criminal act.
In conclusion, the rulings of Justice Whites about reporter's privileges are contradictory. The constitutional rights of citizens leave judges in a dilemma on whose rights they should protect or infringe to bring justice (Weinberg, 149). They are subjected to circumstantially or deliberately protect or neglect the privileges of the citizens (Erik, 1). There should be a clear path to be followed to avoid inconsistent rulings by courts of law.
Erik Ugland. "The New Abridged Reporter's Privilege: Policies, Principles, and Pathological Perspectives." 71 Ohio St. L.J. 1 (2010): 1. Accessed on 8/11/2019. Retrieved from https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/ohslj71§ion=4
Rodney A. Smolla. The First Amendment, Journalists, and Sources: A Curious Study in "Reverse Federalism." Washington and Lee University School of Law 3- (2008): 1423-1430. Retrieved from http://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1443&context=wlufac
Weinberg, Joel G. "Supporting The First Amendment: A National Reporter's Shield Law." Seton Hall Legis. J. 31 (2006): 149. Retrieved from https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/sethlegj31§ion=8
Newman, Craig A. "Qualified Privilege for Journalists Branzburg v. Hayes: A Decade Later." U. Det. J. Urb. L. 61 (1983): 463. Retrieved from https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/udetmr61§ion=33
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