What Is the Reporter’s Privilege?

NBCU Academy 101

General Counsel Gail Gove, NBCU News Group’s lead attorney and top legal adviser, explains the “reporter’s privilege,” which protects a journalist against compelled disclosure of newsgathering information. Most states have “shield laws” that protect journalists from disclosing sources, but every state’s law is different.

Sign up for our newsletter! Right Arrow

“Your work as a reporter rises and falls with your sourcing, so it’s really important to clearly establish the terms of your relationship with a source,” Gove said. “Whatever you and the source agree to is a legally binding contract, and you have a legal obligation to uphold it.”

Gove’s advice includes:

• Don’t promise a source confidentiality unless the information is really important. If you do, you have a legal obligation to fight against disclosing it.

• Be clear with your source about the terms of your deal. You may need to prove it was a confidential relationship later on.

• Guard the information a confidential source gives you and keep it and the source’s identity close.  

To learn more about the reporter’s privilege and shield laws, visit the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.