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The key to the application of the newsperson's privilege is not that one claims to be a reporter or that one has a website, but that one is actively affiliated with and engaged in any of the aspects of the news process. New Jersey's Shield Law, N.J.S.A. § 2A:84A-21 et seq., focuses on the news process rather than the medium or mode through which the news is disseminated to the public. Thus, the statutory privilege extends to persons "engaged in, connected with or employed by," § 2A:84A-21, any medium "similar" to one of several enumerated news entities, N.J.S.A. § 2A:84A-21a(a), and involved in any aspect of the news process, including "gathering, procuring, transmitting, compiling, editing, or disseminating" regardless of the manner of dissemination, be it print, broadcast, mechanical, electronic or other means. § 2A:84A-21(a). Moreover, the individual claiming the privilege must be engaged in the news process while his or her requisite relationship or affiliation with the news media is still in effect. § 2A:84A-21a(b).
In her internet postings, defendant intimated, inter alia, that plaintiffs engaged in illegal uses of technology and used the company’s software to cause an influx of spam to its customers. Plaintiffs sued defendant, alleging defamation, false light, and trade libel. Invoking New Jersey's Shield Law, N.J.S.A. § 2A:84A-21 et seq., defendant sought a protective order preventing disclosure of the identity of her "confidential" sources in discovery. The Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, denied the motion. On appeal, defendant argued that both the statutory newsperson's privilege and U.S. Const. amend. I protected the anonymity of her sources.
Did the statutory newsperson's privilege and U.S. Const. amend. I protect the anonymity of defendant’s sources?
The appellate court held that the protections of the Shield Law, § 2A:84A-21, did not extend to defendant so as to bar from disclosure sources from which she obtained information in her investigation on the online adult entertainment industry and later posted on internet bulletin boards. She never told her "sources" she was a journalist, and there was no evidence of any mutual agreement of confidentiality. She had none of the characteristics traditionally associated with the news process and did not show an affiliation with any news entity. U.S. Const. amend. I afforded no greater protection than the Shield Act.