Reporters have privileges, too


As he quietly rustled around with his notes and adjusted his glasses, a seemingly quiet, middle-aged man was preparing himself to speak to a class of 20-something-year-old students. As the professor introduced him the class, the group began to realize this man was of stature and experience, and hushed to listen.

Peter Canfield, a graduate of Yale University Law School and winner of the Best Lawyers in America award since 1993, began to speak to the Kennesaw State University Society of Professional Journalists meeting on investigative reporting and how to handle anonymous sources.

Canfield, who also is a practicing lawyer and partner at Jones Day, began the presentation with explaining what a reporter’s privilege is.

Reporters have to gain information from somewhere, but where? All types of sources give the inside scoop to an inquiring reporter, whether it be a serial killer’s psychiatrist, a priest, or even a sexual offender.

A reporter can ask certain sources for information on a suspect and can sometimes gain very detailed and interesting insight. What is going to protect these sources if the serial killer and sexual offender find out that someone told on them?

A reporter’s privilege will. A select few are protected from testifying under the privilege rule:

  • Attorney/Client Relationship
  • Priest/Penitent Relationship
  • Spousal Privilege
  • Therapist/Patient Relationship
  • Doctor/Patient Relationship
  • 5th Amendment Situations

As Canfield explained, “The reporter’s privilege is not so much for the reporter’s protection but to protect the source. “

Investigative writing has a protective bubble around it so that the public can learn and sources can share what is crucial. That bubble is a reporter’s privilege.

Journalists or sources can rest assured that, in a court of law or on the streets, there is protection from angry citizens who may not agree with what has been shared.


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