by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
documentaries, journalism, movies, shield laws


Is A Documentary Investigative Reporting? Should Filmmakers Be Covered By Journalist Shield Laws?

from the seems-reasonable... dept

While there are still ongoing arguments over whether or not bloggers should be considered journalists when it comes to keeping their sources and source materials confidential, there's another arena impacted by all of this as well: documentary filmmakers. A judge has ordered a documentary filmmaker to turn over "cut" footage to Chevron from the filmmaker's documentary about Chevron's involvement in pollution of the rainforest in Ecuador. Chevron believes that there may be footage that will help it get a lawsuit filed against the company by Ecuadorians dismissed. While the filmmaker argued that the works were protected, the judge shot that down in saying that since there were no confidentiality agreements signed, that the material is not confidential. That seems like a rather broad ruling over whether or not a journalist can protect their sources. Do all journalists now need to sign confidentiality agreements with sources?

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    Paul Alan Levy (profile), 12 May 2010 @ 4:04am

    Tough case

    Interesting case, thanks for calling it to attention.

    Seems to me the case may be a harder one because the documentarist got blanket releases from the folks he filmed, allowing him to include anything he filmed part of the publicly released movie, and the participants whom he filmed participated for the very purpose of making their actions public. The documentarist entered into specific agreements on confidentiality with some folks, not others. Another hard aspect is that the documentary was made at the instance of the plaintiffs' lawyers, as a way of publicizing their case; and the lawyer seeking the discovery made some strong arguments about why the material being sought could be central to his case. And the journalist privilege is a qualified privilege, that involves a balancing of the need for confidentiality against the needs of the person seeking discovery.

    Still, the opinion is a bit odd because it begins by quoting a Second Circuit opinion saying that the journalist privilege is stronger when there was an assurance of confidentiality, and weaker when there is not. But after deciding that there was no assurance of confidentiality, the opinion does not go back to perform any balancing test.

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