The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is encouraged that Superior Court Judge Carl Davis quashed a demand from county officials to force a video journalist to testify in a criminal trial. The ruling is the second so far this year rejecting the county’s efforts to compel information from local journalists.
The District Attorney’s Office had demanded that KGTV video journalist Paul Anderegg testify about what he saw last July while reporting on a suspected DUI accident on Interstate 5. Prosecutors argued Anderegg exempted himself from California Shield Law protections when he acted as a good Samaritan and called 911 while filming the accident. Anderegg was represented by Sheppard Mullin, which challenged the county’s actions in court.
On Thursday, Judge Davis sided with Anderegg, ruling that since Anderegg was in the process of newsgathering, California’s Shield Law protections are in place.
That law explicitly protects journalists from having to testify or disclose “any unpublished information.” The law exists to help journalists seek the truth and report it, as well as to minimize harm to sources and others, two core tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Thursday’s ruling stands as an example for journalists in California that making a 911 call while news gathering does not exempt the journalist from the state’s Shield Law protections.
At a time when trust in the media and in government is hovering at historic lows, the public must know that it can trust both its journalists and its county officials. Continued conflict destroys this public trust, as well as the mutual trust necessary for journalists and government officials to do their respective jobs in service to the public.
The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists welcomes the opportunity to engage in discussions with the County about California Shield Law protections.
Disclosure: Attorney Matthew Halgren, who represented Anderegg, was recently voted onto the San Diego SPJ board. He recused himself from discussing the board’s statement.