SPJ NorCal Condemns Search of Freelancer Bryan Carmody as Attack on First Amendment

SAN FRANCISCO — SPJ NorCal’s Freedom of Information Committee condemns the recent raid by law enforcement of freelance journalist Bryan Carmody, in an apparent attempt to identify the confidential source who provided Carmody with a copy of a police report detailing the circumstances of former San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s death. During the search, law enforcement officers seized documents, notes and a slew of digital devices from Carmody’s home and office.

California’s Shield Law protects journalists from being held in contempt for refusing to disclose their sources’ identities and other unpublished/unaired information obtained during the news gathering process (California Constitution, Article I, § 2(b); California Evidence Code § 1070(a)). California Penal Code section 1524(g) provides that “no warrant shall issue” for any item protected by the Shield Law.

The Freedom of Information Committee is seeking more information on the raid, including why these laws were not adhered to. That this search was carried out weeks after Carmody declined a request from San Francisco police to divulge his sources shows an alarming disregard for the right to gather and report on information.

Approaches to reporting on Adachi’s death varied among local news outlets. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics directs: “[D]o not pay for access to news” and says reporters should “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.” Journalists should consider the motivations of anonymous sources and news organizations should disclose when content has been provided by outside sources, whether paid or not. While there may be legitimate questions on the circumstances surrounding the reporting of Adachi’s death, the seizure of any journalist’s notes or other reporting materials sets a dangerous precedent.

An attack on the rights of one journalist is an attack on the rights of all journalists. San Francisco’s wrongful actions against Carmody threaten fundamental journalistic freedoms which are vital to a functioning democracy.

Contact SPJ NorCal Freedom of Information Committee co-chairs Matt Drange and Aaron Field: spjnorcalfoi@gmail.com