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Friday, March 8, 2019

MFIA Clinic Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of 17 Major Media Organizations

In a case that the public knew almost nothing about because of an initial judge-ordered seal, investigative journalist Teri Buhl revealed on her website that she was being asked by a subject from of one of her news pieces to divulge the identity of a confidential source. Buhl’s case touches upon issues at the core of the profession of journalism like press freedom, free speech, and source protection.

The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) at Yale Law School filed an amicus brief in the case Anonymous v. Anonymous on behalf of a coalition of 17 major media organizations, including the New York Daily News, New York Times, Newsday, The Intercept, Gannett Newspapers, Reporters Without Borders, the Associated Press, and others.

The brief to New York State’s Supreme Court in Manhattan cited the public’s First Amendment right of access in its argument to have the court records made available to the public.

“The brief centers on the importance of the public and the media’s right to an open court system,” Buhl wrote on her website. “No one should be able to sue a journalist with an attempt to get access to their protected source material and then have the court keep the fact they did this quiet; which is what happened to me.”

Lawyers for the MFIA Clinic attended the March 5, 2019 hearing, where the case records were officially unsealed in their entirety. The judge also acknowledged Buhl as a journalist, an important step for independent reporters like Buhl.

“The amicus brief shows [that] other journalists and their news publications don’t want the court to repeat these kind of rulings against the media working to inform the public,” said Buhl online.

“I appreciate my peers in journalism supporting my byline and the work of any freelance investigative journalist who doesn’t have powerful internal media lawyers to back them up.”

This case lies at the focal point of MFIA’s dual missions — to protect journalists who might not have resources to defend themselves and to secure access to important government information, explained MFIA Staff Attorney John Langford. 

“Tuesday’s victory is but one example of the important role MFIA plays in protecting core First Amendment liberties in New York and around the country,” Langford said.

by Leah Ferentinos