RCFP, others file brief in support of Patch journalist

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a brief last week in support of Joseph Hosey, a Patch journalist in Chicago who’s been ordered to reveal the identity of a source.

On Thursday, RCFP said the organization, along with 38 other media outlets, filed the brief:

Reporter Joseph Hosey was ordered to reveal the identity of the source who supplied him with a police report that contained details of the double murder. The judge in the trial court applied the state’s shield law to Hosey but nonetheless found that the privilege had been overcome, finding that the identity of the source was relevant, alternative sources had been exhausted, and the information was essential to protect the public interest. Much of that finding hinged on the fact that the court made 500 law enforcement officials swear that they were not the source, and thus finding out if one of them was lying was “relevant” to the proceedings.

In September, Poynter wrote about the case:

Hosey reported that two of the people accused of murdering Terrance Rankins and Eric Glover in Joliet at the beginning of 2013 had sex atop their dead bodies. “A source has confirmed for the Chicago Sun-Times that the detail appears in the reports, which contain conflicting interviews,” (Becky) Schlikerman writes (for the Chicago Sun-Times.)

One defendant, Bethany McKee, is seeking the information. “Her stated objectives are to ‘plug’ the leak and interfere with Mr. Hosey’s ability to write more stories, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s prohibition against prior restraints,” Hosey’s petition says.

In the brief, RCFP wrote that the “reporter’s privilege, meant to offer qualified protection to journalists from having to reveal their sources, cannot instead be used as a weapon against those very journalists.”

A defendant cannot spring a trap by requiring all potential sources to sign affidavits, under the guise of exhausting all available resources, and then assume that one of them lied and proclaim that discovering the identity of that person is relevant to the proceedings. To preserve the intent and purpose of the statute, the lower court’s decision must be reversed.

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