The Society of Professional Journalists respectfully urges Judge Carlos A. Samour not to compel Fox News reporter Jana Winter to reveal her sources regarding a notebook allegedly sent to a psychiatrist by his former patient James Holmes, the accused killer in the 2012 Aurora, Colo., mass shooting.
SPJ, the largest and most broad-based journalism group in the United States, has long fought to protect a journalist’s privilege not to reveal sources.
“SPJ generally believes that journalists have the right to protect their sources and that the law should protect journalists who do so, not persecute them,” SPJ President Sonny Albarado said.
Under Colorado’s shield law, a reporter is protected from revealing her or his sources except where:
1. Such identification is “directly relevant to a substantial issue involved in the proceeding” regarding a criminal case;
2. it is determined that information cannot be obtained by “any other reasonable means”; and
3. the interest of the party seeking the information “outweighs the interests of the reporter and the public.”
Under C.R.S. 13-90-119(3), all three conditions must be met before a reporter can be compelled to disclose the identity of her or his sources. In our opinion, none of those requirements have been met in this case.
The source of the information about the existence of the notebook in question is not directly relevant to the case. Holmes’ guilt or innocence will be determined by factors other than the identity of that individual.
Revealing Winter’s sources would neither further the state’s nor Holmes’ case in this situation. This seems nothing more than a witch hunt designed to silence the media on this case.
Since Winter’s situation does not meet the exceptions made in Colorado’s shield law, she should not be compelled to reveal her sources.
“The confidentiality of sources is a vital tool of journalists to be able to report the truth,” SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chair Linda Petersen said. “It should not be set aside except in the narrowest of circumstances where information relating to a criminal case cannot be revealed any other way. These are not those circumstances.”
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.