Thursday, February 02, 2006

Shield Law III: The Subpoena

One of the annoying processes that a newsman would have to encounter in the exercise of his profession is the process called subpoena.
I have noticed that many times, newsmen most of whom have no propoer legal training, quiver or even panic when served with a copy of a subpoena. Others who are used to receiving subpoenas, would understandably be annoyed by it.
Newsmen should be ready to become receipients of a subpoena because it is part of the territory.
A subpoena is defined as a process directed to a person requiring him to attend and to testify at a the hearing or trial of an action.
A subpoena may also require a person to bring to court documents or other things in his control.
One good advice to newsmen if they receive a court subpoena is to immediately refer the matter to the legal counsel of their news organization. If there is none, then refer to the editor or senior executive of the organization so you can be provided proper advice.
It must be stressed that a subpoena is a compulsive process. This means you cannot just shove away a subponea. Generally, it must be complied with.
If it is to be objected to, there is a strict procedure for opposing and a lawyer is needed for this.
The law says in case of failure to attend, the court or judge issuing the subpoena may issue a warrant to arrest the witness and bring him before the court where his attendance is required.
More, the witness who fails to comply with a subpoena may be imposed an economic sanction by requiring the witness to pay the costs for serving the subpoena.
For journalists, many times a subpoena will require them to bring recordings of their interviews, their notes, journals, to be used by a party in the case.
This is where the shield law comes in.
In many cases, journalists can invoke the shield law to resist a subpoena particularly if the materials sought are confidential ("reavealed in confidence").
Remember that under the sheld law, a journalist is shielded from revealing the source of his information.
If he is made to produce a tape recording of an interview, or worse a video recording, this would necessarily show the identity of the source.
Some legal practitioners are crafty, and they will use the subpoena process to uncover what are supposed to be law-protected "secret files" of journalists.
So journalists must always be careful when served with subpoena.

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