Journalistic privilege bolstered in NY’s failed effort to obtain filmmaker’s outtakes

KWIKA partner Jeremiah Reynolds was quoted in “Judge’s ruling a victory for documentarians,” Ted Johnson’s Variety piece on the city of New York’s attempt to obtain the outtakes from filmmaker Ken Burns’ documentary The Central Park Five, a chronicle of the notorious case of the “Central Park Jogger” who was brutally attacked while running in 1989.

The five men found guilty of the crime had sued the city and others, having spent over a decade in prison only to have their convictions vacated based on DNA evidence.  The city contended that Burns and his company Florentine Films had acted as more than just journalists, and had become “agents of the attorneys” for the convicted five.  Jeremiah defended Burns’ robust point of view and said that if filmmakers don’t communicate their message powerfully, “it is a very boring documentary.  It’s hard enough to get an audience.”

The city based its case primarily on Chevron’s successful effort in 2011 to obtain hundreds of hours of outtakes from the film Crude in a class-action suit brought by Ecuadorians against Chevron for environmental damage in a rainforest region.  A federal appeals court ruled that the makers of the film had crossed the line between mere journalism and actual advocacy, and as a result had given up their journalistic privilege.  Jeremiah noted that an “overbroad” interpretation of the Crude ruling would erode the effect of the New York “shield” law.

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