The Nevada Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that Nevada’s journalism shield law protects digital media as well as print, TV and radio news reporters.
The shield law states that newspaper, TV and radio reporters can’t be forced to reveal their sources.
But they sent back to Carson District Judge James Wilson the specific issue of whether Sam Toll’s blog, The Story Teller, qualifies for that protection.
Toll was sued by Storey County businessman and County Commissioner Lance Gilman after he published stories saying Gilman doesn’t live in Storey County. The stories said that Gilman typically goes home to a Reno residence every night about 8 p.m.
Gilman charged those stories were provably wrong and filed a defamation suit. In his effort to prove Toll had actual malice when he made those statements, Gilman demanded Toll’s sources for the story. Toll cited the newspaper shield law and refused but Wilson ruled for Gilman and ordered Toll to provide the names.
Gilman argued the shield law doesn’t apply to Toll’s publication because he was not associated with a newspaper, periodical, press association or radio or television station.
In an opinion issued Thursday, the high court said Wilson, “relied on the notion that because Toll’s blog is not physically printed, it cannot be considered a newspaper.”
All seven members of the Supreme Court joined in the opinion rejecting that conclusion.
“If the district court had pursued the literal meaning of ‘print’ further, it would have found that it could apply to digital media as well as physical form,” the opinion states.
The opinion by Chief Justice Mark Gibbons says legislators know full well that technological advances will continue and that the rules will one day apply to “all sorts of circumstances that they could not possibly envision.” And he said the newspaper industry is dramatically different today than in 1975 when that shield law was passed.
“Just because a newspaper can exist online, it does not mean it ceases to be a newspaper,” Gibbons wrote adding that to deny that would reach an absurd result. “We conclude that a blog should not be disqualified from the news shield statute NRS 49.275 merely on the basis that the blog is digital.”
But they ordered the district court to hold further hearings, “to determine whether Toll’s blog qualified for protection under the news shield statute.”