Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » Why should newspapers protect the newsgathering process?


An important hearing occurs Friday morning in the Victoria County Courthouse.

At the risk of over-dramatizing, what's at stake is the First Amendment. Subpoenas like the one Gabe Semenza received this week have a chilling effect on newsgathering. We don't fight it lightly.

News media have been called the Fourth Estate, meaning we play an important watchdog role in a democracy. To help us better do that important job, the American Society of Newspaper Editors are pushing for a federal shield law. You may read about the arguments for that on the ASNE Web site. The First Amendment Center also provides an excellent background piece on the issue. The key points the article makes about the test that should be applied before compelling journalists to testify:

  • The information is highly material and relevant to the case at issue.
  • A compelling need exists for the information.
  • The information cannot be obtained by other means.
In the case of Gabe's subpoena, he has reported on a rift between law enforcement and the district attorney. Any relevant information he gathered has been published already in our coverage. He should not be compelled to testify when the district attorney easily can obtain the same information from the published articles or from other sources using the immense powers of a grand jury.

In this case, Gabe hasn't even used confidential sources for his stories, so there's no secret on our end the DA needs to uncover. We view the subpoena as a form of harassment and intimidation, whether the DA intends it as such or not.

If you want Gabe or any other journalist to continue to report independently on public officials and their activities, I encourage you to support both a state and federal shield law for journalists. I also urge you to support the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation. This is a cause for those who love freedom. It's not just about whether you like or dislike the Advocate.