Generally, journalists and their organizations in North Carolina have been protected from turning over unpublished material because of “shield laws.” In this case, UNC-TV’s lawyers said they were unsure whether the state shield laws would apply to an organization that falls under state control.
“We understand that there are those who will disagree with our decision, but given the legal uncertainty as to the application of the press shield law to UNC-TV, and because of the fact that UNC-TV is a state entity, we believe we have responded to this difficult situation in a manner that is legal, ethical and responsible,” said UNC-TV spokesman Steve Volstad.
Given some discussion for increased government spending and focus on public media, the event raises some intriguing questions.
Will sources feel comfortable talking with reporters for media under state or federal control, knowing all their information might be turned over to government agencies?
Should public media be structured in such a way that it does not fall under government control? UNC-TV employees are state employees and compelled by law to share requested information with the state legislature.
How can societies prevent state-run media from just becoming an investigative arm of government?
What journalists can and should do now: Read, bookmark and learn your states’ shield laws. The Reporters’ Committee for a Free Press has a shield-law guide.
Tuesday morning update from Observer associate editor Jack Betts, based in Raleigh. Includes a longer statement from UNC TV spokesman Steve Volstad.
Opinion from Jack Betts
Archives from the Raleigh News and Observer on Alcoa
Capitol Beat, the association of capitol reporters and editors, sends official letter objecting to subpoena.
Carolina Journal, the monthly newspaper of the John Locke Foundation, on the issue.