Are you being served? p.15

By: David Noack Study says papers make efforts to fend off subpoenas

Newspapers are targeted less often with subpoenas demanding notes, testimony, and other information than television news and are more successful at rebuffing them, according to a new study by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The 28-page report shows broadcasters getting 71% of subpoenas and complying with them 73% of the time. News organizations ? newspapers and television stations ? reported getting a total of 2,725 subpoenas in 1997.
The 410 newspapers responding to the survey received 784 subpoenas or 29% of the total and were able to negotiate away nearly 50% of the legal actions. Broadcasters were only able to talk their way out of 17% of their subpoenas.
Television news, which accounted for less than half of the news organizations responding to the survey, received more than half of all reported subpoenas, 1,941 out of 2,725.
The study, conducted by the Arlington, Va., press rights group, is the first of three reports on the incidence of subpoenas served on the news media. This is the second part of a project undertaken by the reporters' committee, compiled in three separate reports issued in 1991, 1993, and 1995. The current study was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
A total of 2,061 surveys were sent to newspapers and television news organizations in the United States. Out of that, 597 or 29% of those responded to the survey.
Jane Kirtley, executive director of the reporters' committee, says newspapers are better able to fend off subpoenas because they make the effort, where broadcasters sometimes won't even call their lawyers.
"A lot of [TV broadcasters] believe that it is very expensive to fight a subpoena, and that they'll lose anyway," says Kirtley.
Print publications reported more success in negotiating the withdrawal of subpoenas. Newspapers indicated that 374 or 48% of the subpoenas issued against them were withdrawn, while television stations negotiated withdrawal on 321 or 17%. Newspapers also were able to have quashed 139 or 18% of subpoenas, while broadcasters quashed only 67 or 3%.
Print and broadcast media also differed when it came to complying with demands for information. Television stations reported full compliance in 1,412 situations or 73%. Newspapers, on the other hand, fully complied with only 177 or 23% of the subpoenas issued against them.
Newspapers were more often asked to testify at a trial or at a deposition, receiving 398 subpoenas or 51% for testimony. In contrast, 264 or 14% of subpoenas received by broadcasters were for testimony at trial or deposition.
Television and newspapers also took different approaches to challenging
Newspapers successfully used state shield laws in 79 instances or 13% of the challenges; television stations asserted shield law protections in 45 successful challenges or 9% of the challenges. Newspapers relied on constitutional privileges in 35 successful challenges or 6% of the challenges; broadcasters cited a constitutional challenge in 13 victories or 2% of challenges.
The Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) posts on its Web site what TV news organizations should take when they get a subpoena. The action was taken after a Nevada district attorney ordered search warrants that resulted in raids on three television stations in Reno, Nev. District attorney Richard Gammick had ordered the searches to obtain videotaped interviews journalists had done with a prisoner accused of opening fire on Interstate 80.
Kirtley also warned that so-called shield laws are being eroded by court decisions but can still be helpful.
"They can be very useful, but it is essential that those who want to rely on them know what they say, and how courts in their states have interpreted them," says Kirtley.
California led the way in news organization subpoenas with 322, with Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Illinois reported receiving a statewide total of less than 100 each. No subpoenas were reported in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Rhode Island.
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