Prosecutors Investigate Students; AEJMC Urges Subpoena Quash

Nov. 3, 2009 | The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) has issued the following statement in support of David Protess, Professor and Director of The Medill Innocence Project, associated journalism students, and the protection of journalists to report on government:

According to a New York Times story by Monica Davey, prosecutors in Illinois have subpoenaed the “grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages” of students involved with Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project who investigated whether a man convicted of murder three decades ago had been wrongfully convicted. Prosecutors reportedly want to discover whether there were links between new information learned by the students and their grades. A hearing is set this month at the Cook County (Illinois) Circuit Court regarding this issue.

AEJMC’s position is that this highly unusual request is inappropriate for three reasons:

  1. The Medill journalism students should be protected under the Illinois state shield law;
  2. If the court grants the prosecutors’ request, journalism students involved with similar projects would think twice about criticizing governmental actions if personal information, such as grades and e-mails, could become public; and
  3. Journalists should not be treated as instruments of the State.

AEJMC strongly urges the judge responsible for this case to quash the subpoena and direct prosecutors to investigate the evidence uncovered by the journalism students in a timely and unbiased way.

Contacts: Carol Pardun, AEJMC President (803) 777-3244, pardunc@mailbox.sc.edu; Bill Cassidy, AEJMC Newspaper Division Chair, (815) 753-7005, bcassidy@niu.edu.

This statement was issued by the 2009-10 President of AEJMC, Carol Pardun, University of South Carolina, and through the President’s Advisory Council (Marie Hardin, Pennsylvania State University; Paul Lester, California State University-Fullerton; Julianne Newton, University of Oregon).

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