A King County judge’s order that The Seattle Times and other media must turn over unpublished content to the police is a blow to independent journalism.
The order imperils journalists documenting this summer’s historic protests and sends the wrong message about the media as a check on government power.
Journalists’ unique role and responsibility is protected in Washington’s shield law, passed by legislators in 2007. The law prohibits officials from forcing journalists to turn over unpublished information outside of specific and narrow circumstances. King County Superior Court Judge Nelson Lee’s recent order that The Seattle Times and four other news outlets must hand unpublished protest video and photos to police investigators is a troubling interpretation of that law.
Police want the journalists’ images to help identify suspects who set fire to police cars and stole police firearms during a May 30 protest in downtown Seattle. Certainly, those involved in the crimes should be held accountable. But even the mistaken conflation of journalists with police investigators can directly impact news gatherers’ ability to do their work. (Read more)