Riley v. City of Chester, 612 F.2d 708 (3d Cir. 1979).
“A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
The inability of the British press to publish information unfavorable to the Crown without the incessant threat of being charged with sedition compelled the founding fathers to constitutionally guarantee the American press’ right to gather and disseminate news under the aegis of the first amendment.
While newsgathering and publishing enjoy a constitutionally protected position, the Constitution, itself, does not expressly extend this privilege to cover a reporter’s work product. This lacuna has repeatedly given rise to a rather peculiar conflict between a reporter/citizen’s duty to testify and his professional/ethical obligation not to reveal the source of confidentially obtained material.
The press has long maintained that the compelled disclosure of these sources would necessarily impair their ability to obtain confidential information in the future and would, thereby, have a chilling effect on both their right and obligation to gather and report news under the first amendment. The federal judiciary, in a number of recent decisions, has attempted to ameliorate the frequency of such clashes between professional and civic duty by expressly delineating the parameters of press privilege. Riley v. City of Chester is the most recent of those decisions.
Whisman, Victor T.
"Evidentiary Privilege: The Development of Federal Common Law Press Privilege,"
University of Dayton Law Review: Vol. 6:
2, Article 6.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udlr/vol6/iss2/6