LA Times media columnist James Rainey says San Francisco police created an unnecessary First Amendment showdown when they searched the apartment of a San Francisco State journalism student who took pictures of a murder scene. The student, who is not being named by newspapers for safety reasons, has said his photographs are protected under California’s shield law, and he is being represented for free by attorney Jim Wagstaffe. Writes Rainey:
- Although he is not a professional journalist, the courts have made clear that the shield law protects student reporters and photographers from having to disclose unpublished notes, photographs or observations.
California legislators wrote the law in the 1930s (it later became part of the state Constitution) because they realized that journalists can’t function — persuading jittery subjects to talk or getting whistle-blowers to share confidential information — if the sources believe their identities or statements might be revealed to authorities.
“My guy exposed himself to a difficult situation for a long time to report on an underserved community,” said Wagstaffe, who specializes in 1st Amendment cases. “If he gives testimony or pictures now and gets in harm’s way, the next three journalists won’t be able to go to a place like Hunters Point and gather important information.”