45°F
weather icon Partly Cloudy

Nevada Supreme Court rules shield law applies to digital journalists

Updated December 5, 2019 - 1:51 pm

CARSON CITY – Nevada’s 1970s shield law protecting journalists from having to reveal sources applies to digital as well as legacy media, the state’s highest court ruled in a decision released Thursday.

But the Supreme Court did not rule on whether a Storey County blogger who brought the case qualifies for that protection, sending the underlying matter back to the lower court for rehearing.

Despite having to relitigate matters in the lower court, blogger Sam Toll called the decision “a major victory for journalists in Nevada and across the country.”

Toll writes about news in Virginia City. He was sued for defamation by Lance Gilman, owner of the Mustang Ranch brothel and manager of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, for stories Toll wrote claiming that Gilman did not live in Storey County and was therefore ineligible to serve on the county commission.

Toll moved to dismiss Gilman’s case on free speech grounds under the state’s law against so-called SLAPP lawsuits — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. The lower court ruled that Gilman had a possible viable claim and allowed Gilman to depose Toll.

As part of the deposition process, Gilman moved to compel Toll to reveal his sources, arguing that the shield law didn’t apply to bloggers.

The district court sided with Gilman, finding that while Toll was a reporter, he and his blog were not covered by the law because Toll was not a member of the state Press Association and his blog did not qualify as a newspaper because it runs only online.

Ruling unanimously, the top court said that the drafters of the shield law, last modified in 1975, could not then have anticipated the rise of digital media and found that “just because a newspaper can exist online, it does not mean it ceases to be a newspaper.”

“While we decline to resolve whether or not a blog falls under the definition of a newspaper, we conclude that a blog should not be disqualified from the news shield statute under (state law) merely on the basis that the blog is digital, rather than appearing in an ink-printed, physical form.”

The court instructed the lower court to review its decision compelling Toll to reveal sources based on Thursday’s ruling.

“In a time when it is more difficult and dangerous to be a journalist, I am encouraged by Nevada’s Supreme Court’s ruling,” Toll said in an emailed statement. “The ruling confirms what I believe everyone takes for granted in today’s digital age; online journalists are real journalists and deserve the protection of Reporter Shield Laws.”

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

Sam Toll petition by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
RJ Politics Podcast with Deval Patrick - VIDEO
2020 Presidential Candidate Deval Patrick joins hosts Rory Appleton and Steve Sebelius on the RJ Politics Podcast.
Tom Steyer on Donald Trump and the economy - Video
Tom Steyer joins the RJ Politics podcast to talk about his campaign presence in Nevada and how he plans to take Trump on when talking about the economy. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas City Council Votes On Homeless Ordinance - Video
The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday will discuss expanding on a controversial camping and sleeping ban aimed at deterring the homeless from bivouacking on city streets to include hours when public sidewalks are being cleaned.
Biden meets with Vegas Latino community - VIDEO
Presidential candidate Joe Biden met with members of the Latino community at Rancho High School. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Henderson, other Nevada cities consent to refugee resettlement - VIDEO
Henderson will continue to welcome refugees for resettlement, according to a December letter from Mayor Debra March. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg Speaks At Black Empowerment Event - Video
Pete Buttigieg speaks at a black empowerment event to talk about his Douglass plan.
Joe Biden at the national hospitality workers union.
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the national hospitality workers union during UNITE HERE's town hall on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019 at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. @bizutesfaye
Elizabeth Warren at Culinary Union
Elizabeth Warren speaks at a Culinary Union town hall in Las Vegas on Dec. 9, 2019.
Secretary of Education visits Henderson school
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited students at Pinecrest Academy in Henderson to talk about college planning on Dec. 4, 2019. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump dropped from Terry Fator’s show on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Fator has edited out one prominent figure: President Donald Trump, a focal point of Fator’s regular stage show and also Christmas show over the past 3½ years. The Trump puppet, with his pop-up hairpiece, has been sidelined from both shows until further notice. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Accused murder mastermind Frank LaPena is granted a pardon - VIDEO
A onetime Las Vegas casino bell captain who spent 25 years in prison as the accused mastermind in a notorious 1974 contract murder won his last legal battle for freedom Wednesday when the state Pardons Board granted him a conditional pardon restoring all his civil rights. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Middle: Nonpartisan voters and the 2020 election
How will the growing segment of nonpartisan or independent voters — those who have not registered with either political party, or who have left partisan politics behind — vote in 2020?
THE LATEST
Teachers union files initiative to raise Nevada’s gaming tax

An initiative to raise the top tier of the Nevada gaming tax, sponsored by the Clark County Education Association, would raise an estimated $315 million per year.