EDITORIAL: Protecting the shield


Aspen Financial Services took the damage-control strategy of attacking the messenger to an outrageous new level. When local journalist Dana Gentry started reporting on the company’s dismal performance and disgruntled investors, Aspen and its chief, Jeff Guinn (son of late former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn) filed a subpoena to examine her sources of information.

The case was at once a farce and an immense threat to journalism in the Silver State. Aspen concocted allegations that Ms. Gentry was conflicted, somehow benefiting from her stories through favors from an Aspen rival, as a means to an end: The goal was to damage her reputation and get her off the story, and nothing more. However, if the subpoena were allowed to proceed, it would have put every journalist in Nevada on notice that any attempt to examine the powerful could be subjected to costly legal proceedings based on fabrication, not evidence. It would give those with something to hide a heavy club to beat back scrutiny.

Nevada has a reporter shield law to prevent such scenarios. The law says journalists cannot be forced to reveal sources or information collected in the news gathering process. Journalists can be sued for libel — a tough standard to prove for any plaintiff — but they can’t be targeted by baseless fishing expeditions. Ms. Gentry fought the subpoena, rightly asserting she was protected by the shield law. The case was so important that the Review-Journal and other media organizations filed amicus briefs in support of Ms. Gentry, a producer for the KSNV-TV show “Ralston Reports.”

Last week, the Nevada Supreme Court sided with Ms. Gentry — and journalists everywhere — by upholding the strength of the shield law. It’s an important decision, even though this steaming pile of litigation never should have made it to the high court in the first place.

That’s because, today as much as ever, the public interest demands an aggressive press corps afforded the legal protections necessary to support journalistic inquiry. Any erosion to those protections makes it more difficult to hold officials accountable for wrongdoing.

Thanks to Ms. Gentry and all who supported her in this fight. And thanks to the Nevada Supreme Court for upholding the shield law.

 

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