Professor Tries To Get Info On Newspaper Commenters

from the shield-laws dept

There have been a bunch of lawsuits lately testing the boundaries of various "shield laws" that protect journalists from having to give up information on sources. There was one recent case that found that even comments on online newspaper articles could be protected by shield laws, as those commenters represented a source. However, a professor in Montana is suing to try to find out the identity of some commenters on a local news article (found via Citizen Media Law Group). The professor had recently lost a lawsuit, and believes that one of the commenters was on the jury -- and that particular comment (which was posted before the case was decided) suggested he had done independent research and believed information (that was false) in making his decision. So, in seeking a new trial, the professor wants the identity of the commenter in question. Attorneys for the professor claim that the juror admitted to writing the post in an affidavit, though the juror now says he did not. Either way, apparently the strong shield laws in Montana mean that the newspaper probably won't have to give up the info.
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Filed Under: comments, journalism, newspapers, shield laws


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2009 @ 10:27am

    Constitution vs. State law...

    The thing at issue is the identity of the person behind the user name that posted a comment about a news article on the paper's web site, not a confidential source providing information to a reporter. The comment was posted on a public web site for all to see with a user name that implicates one of the jurors. Basically, the paper is refusing to reveal the person associated with a specific user name.

    Based on the wording of the local law (cited in the article), they can probably avoid doing what any other web site owner would have to do, which is reveal the identity of the poster. The legal question is whether the local law is interfering with the right to petition for redress and to a fair trial guaranteed in the Constitution (and applied to the states by the 14th amendment). Last I heard, the Constitution trumps local law.

    If this was a newspaper revealing a confidential source, I'd be a little more concerned, but this is a web site, that happens to be operated by a newspaper, refusing to reveal the identity of a poster on a public comment board.

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