According to Lewis, in Freedom for the Thought That We Hate, Branzburg V. Hayes in 1972 was a landmark United States Supreme Court decision invalidating the use of the First Amendment as a defense for reporters summoned to testify before a grand jury. This remains the only case in which the U.S. Supreme Court has considered the use of reporter’s privilege, which is a reporter’s protection under constitutional law from being compelled to testify about confidential information or sources.
Reporter’s privilege is something that is extremely hard to determine and award in a court of law. While journalists should try to be wary and cautious about relying on unnamed sources, sometimes anonymous sources are integral in breaking a story that is going to expose the truth and somehow inform the public. The question of testimonial privilege for journalists is really one of public policy, rather than constitutional law. The privileges created to assist in lawyer and doctor confidentiality were used to inspire the reporter’s privilege and in 1975 it was made a statute due to the important role in exposing official abuse of power that reporters and journalists hold.
Today, more than ever I believe that reporter’s privilege is essential in creating a safer and more stable environment for reporters. In the Trump era of shaming the media, freedom and safety of reporters is vital and protecting journalism should be considered higher up on the American agenda. Journalism was created to expose truths and inform the public and if the public can’t trust journalists, then there is a very likely chance that fact-based reporting without fear on important issues is in trouble of being compromised.
Yes- now more than ever we can see the importance of protecting journalists from government overreach. Just to clarify however, although individual states have passed shield laws, there remains no federal shield for journalists.