N, Newsroom Searches.
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall
Media emphasis on investigative reporting during the 1960s and 1970s (p. 679) intensified law enforcement interest in obtaining reporters’ files and raised questions regarding the protection of the confidentiality of their sources. Protectors of newsroom materials argue that freedom of the press was designed to promote public access to information. Consequently, any interference in the newsroom harms the public.
Constitutionally, the issue focuses on the *Fourth Amendment question of the relative merits of *search warrants and *subpoenas. Authorities prefer warrants, which are *ex parte court orders, because they are faster and easier to obtain and execute. Journalists counter that searches increase the likelihood that investigators will see materials not specified in the warrant and thereby violate the confidentiality of sources.
Since most searched newsrooms are not under suspicion of criminal activity, additional issues of *privacy are raised. The Supreme Court ruling in Warden v. Hayden (1967) extended police search power beyond seeking instrumentalities of crime to include additional evidence within “plain sight.” The opinion left unanswered the issue of whether writings obtained this way might be included within the range of court-accepted evidence.
The Supreme Court confronted the newsroom issue directly in *Zurcher v. The Stanford Daily (1978) and concluded that the First and Fourth Amendments did not provide additional protection for journalists, and that they were not entitled to any special exemption from the rules of search and seizure. As a result, many media organizations revised their storage policies and destroyed photographs, notes, and other materials. In 1980, however, Congress passed the Privacy Protection Act, which limited newsroom searches to circumstances where subpoenas have been ineffective or where there is *probable cause to suspect a journalist of criminal involvement.
Carol E. Jenson