There is no such thing as a credentialed or card-carrying journalist. Unlike too many jobs in Nevada and the U.S. there is no government licensing of journalists. If you talk to two people you are a gossip. If you talk to three you are a journalist.
But a Carson City judge apparently thinks the Nevada press shield law created the concept of a licensed journalist.
Normally those in the press don’t seek any privilege not accorded any other citizen, but by the very nature of the job — showing up at fires and car crashes, attending public meetings, poking into nooks and crannies of government and society, asking questions and quoting people — there needed to be a means to keep the press independent and not dragged into court or depositions every other week.
That’s the rationale behind the state press shield law. It prohibits dragging members of the Fourth Estate in for a third degree interrogation. Otherwise, there would be little incentive for people to talk to reporters, because that reporter could be forced to testify against them.
The law says, “No reporter, former reporter or editorial employee of any newspaper, periodical or press association or employee of any radio or television station may be required to disclose any published or unpublished information obtained or prepared by such person in such person’s professional capacity in gathering, receiving or processing information for communication to the public, or the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding …”
The devil is in the details. The law predates the blogosphere.
This week Judge James Wilson Jr. ordered Sam Toll, editor of The Storey Teller blog, to disclose his sources for stories about a Storey County commissioner, who is suing Toll for defamation, according to USA Today.
It seems the stories were written in the months before Toll joined the Nevada Press Association.
One of Toll’s attorneys issued a statement saying, “Such a ruling undermines the protection of fundamental Constitutional principles of freedom of speech and of the press and stifles the free flow of information that is essential for any free society to exist.”
Whether Toll is press or not, he still has the right of free speech. Perhaps, he should have to face his accuser but should he be required to drag others into the fray?
The state Supreme Court has twice upheld the shield law as serving an important function for the citizenry.
When the First Amendment was written no one could have imagined radio and television, but they came under the protection of the “press.” Shouldn’t bloggers also be allowed to don the mantle?
Justice Myron Leavitt opined in a case in 2000 in which a plaintiff tried to force a Las Vegas newspaper reporter to reveal his sources: “Nevada’s news shield statute serves an important public interest and provides absolute protection against compelled disclosure to ensure that through the press, the public is able to make informed political, social and economic decisions.”
In 2016 a Clark County judge interpreted the shield law differently, denying lawyers request to review a film maker’s unpublished notes and video interviews with a witness in a criminal case.
The ruling, according to a Las Vegas newspaper, marked the first time a Nevada judge extended the press privilege beyond institutional reporter. “This is the first time any court in Nevada has looked at that,” the film maker’s attorney was quoted as saying. “It is a good victory for all information gatherers in the state.”
Let’s hope this current case is appealed and a similar outcome is reached. Or, perhaps, the lawmakers in Carson City could update the law.
The Nevada Independent has posted a copy of the judge’s ruling.