Branzburg v. Hayes panel discuss reporters’ rights, law, journalism and ethics

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Journalism and law experts gathered at the Union League Club of Chicago Saturday for the event “Branzburg v. Hayes at 40: The Evolution of the Journalist’s Privilege.” It marked the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court case that changed reporters’ rights.

The event was hosted by The College of Communication at DePaul University, the Center for International Media Law and Policy Studies, Indiana University School of Journalism and the Public Affairs Committee of the Union League Club.

Veteran journalist Earl Caldwell, a major role in the United States v. Caldwell/Branzburg v. Hayes cases, was expected to attend, but unfortunately could not.

Among the four panelists was Dr. Anthony L. Fargo, associate professor at the Indiana University School of Journalism; Doctor of Law RonNell Andersen Jones, associate professor of Law at Brigham Young Univsertiy; Dr. Jason A. Martin, assistant professor at DePaul’s College of Communication; and attorney Charles D. Tobin of Holland & Knight law firm.

The panelists discussed the treatment of journalists four decades after the monumental case, which Fargo described as “murky” and one of the least understood cases in the history of the Supreme Court.

Earl Caldwell and his inside reporting on the Black Panthers in the 1970’s were discussed. Caldwell appealed to the Ninth Circuit after being served a subpoena. He was asked to reveal the party’s actions and he refused, arguing that it would damage his relationship with the Panthers and his later work in the field.

The First Amendment’s protection of freedom of the press did not protect him and still does not, though many states have shield laws for protecting journalists now.

Also on the discussion table was the Obama administration and its aggressiveness towards reporters in recent years in dealing with leakers and figures like Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Jones noted that more and more leak cases have been happening recently with the rise of blogging and the outcome has been “more massive high profile losses.”

The turnout was small but filled with enthusiastic journalism students and professionals interested in staying current with the rights of modern day journalists.

One attendee, Lou Rutigliano, a professor of journalism at DePaul said he came to the panel because it’s important to him to be knowledgeable of how the courts are handling the decision of Branzburg v. Hayes forty years later, and so he can give good advice to his students. 

“More students nowadays are producing things as freelancers while they’re in school,” Rutigliano said, “and as one of the panelists said, it’s really important that they’re aware of what their rights are.”