Court rejects U.S. filmmaker's claim of journalistic privilege

Journalists give up their journalistic privilege to protect their notes if they fail to maintain their independence, a New York appeals court ruled earlier this month, reported the Wall Street Journal.

The appeals court upheld an earlier ruling forcing filmmaker Joe Berlinger to release to Chevron 600 hours of raw footage from his documentary about a legal battle between Chevron and people in Ecuador fighting about pollution in the Amazon. Because Berlinger agreed to make changes to his documentary based on input from the Ecuadoran plaintiffs' lawyers, he forfeited his journalistic privilege, the court said.

Berlinger had argued that his documentary, "Crude," was a form of journalism and thus should receive press protections, Reuters explained.

"The decision to modify one scene in the film based on comments from the plaintiffs’ lawyers after viewing the film at the Sundance Film Festival was exclusively my own and in no way diminishes the independence of this production from its subjects," Berlinger said, as quoted in The New York Times. "I rejected many other suggested changes and my documentary ‘Crude’ has been widely praised for its balance in the presentation of Chevron’s point of view as well as the plaintiffs’.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.