Georgia’s Shield Law, most recently codified at O.C.G.A. § 24-5-508, and the qualified reporters’ privilege recognized by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (covering Georgia, Alabama and Florida) both protect journalists, in many instances, from being compelled as a third-party witness or from having to produce their work product as evidence in a legal proceeding as to which the journalist is not a party.

The two documents below provide further information on the history and current scope of these news source protections, including what factual showing must be made to establish an exception to these protections.

Georgia Shield Law

Reporters Privilege in 11th Circuit

July 2020 Addition:
This half-hour recorded presentation by the First Amendment Clinic discusses the evolution of the Georgia Shield Law and the 11th Circuit reporters’ privilege, compares the current scope of each, and discusses whether and in what circumstances these laws might apply to student journalists, or to a law enforcement subpoena for unpublished news source information.

Video Presentation – Protection of News Sources – 7.16.20 (Captioned)

Disclaimer: The information provided in the linked documents and presentation above do not, and are not intended to, constitute legal advice.  All information, content and materials are made available for general informational purposes only.

How did the case study in the video presentation play out in real life?
The “Protection of News Sources” presentation linked above discusses a Seattle Police Department subpoena to obtain unpublished photographs and video of a May 30, 2020 Black Lives Matter protest from five news outlets for purposes of investigating arson of police vehicles and theft of police firearms that occurred during the protest.  The news outlets moved to quash the subpoena, citing Washington’s state shield law.  On July 23, 2020, a state court judge ruled that the news outlets must comply with the subpoena, finding the Police Department met its burden to overcome the shield law by showing that the images sought were “highly material and relevant” and “critical or necessary” to prove an issue that has a compelling public interest for its disclosure, and that all “reasonable and available means” to obtain the information in other ways had been exhausted.  However, the court  imposed some limiting parameters on what materials must be produced by the news outlets and how the police department can use them.  The judge also subsequently ruled that either he or a special master would first review the unpublished protest photos and videos before deciding whether any should be turned over to the Seattle police. This decision is not controlling on courts in Georgia, but it analyzes the same factors that a Georgia court would have to consider if presented with a similar subpoena and motion to quash under the Georgia Shield Law.  The subpoenaed Seattle news outlets appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court, which stayed enforcement of the subpoena while it considered the appeal.  Before the State Supreme Court issued a decision, the Seattle Police Department withdrew the subpoena, meaning the news outlets will not have to produce their unpublished photographs and video from the May 30th protest.

An image of an open newspaper held up by two women, one of which is pointing to a headline.

The Issue

Media Law

The First Amendment guarantees a free press, meaning journalists are able to express any opinions they want about the government, even criticisms. However, journalists are often hindered in their ability to gather and publish news through the threat of lawsuits, subpoenas, and criminal prosecution. Read more about our support for student and professional journalists here.

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