In a ruling affirming the rights and privileges of journalists, Cook County (Illinois) Criminal Judge Vincent Gaughan determined that music critic Jim DeRogatis was protected by the Fifth Amendment and, therefore, could not be compelled to testify in the R. Kelly child pornography case.

R. Kelly in Concert

DeRogatis’ actions are largely responsible for Kelly’s prosecution. In 2002, an anonymous source gave the journalist a copy of a video that allegedly included footage of the R&B mega-star having sex with a 14-year-old girl. Kelly’s legal team attempted to compel DeRogatis to take the stand, claiming that DeRogatis’ testimony would undermine that of key prosecution witness, Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards.

Judge Gaughan disagreed, but only on extremely specific grounds. While the judge originally ruled that DeRogatis was not protected from testifying under either the Illinois reporter privilege or the First Amendment and would, therefore, be required to face the prosecution’s questions, Gaughan later decided that the Fifth Amendment privilege applied, thereby allowing the critic to refuse to testify in court.

On its face, Judge Gaughan’s decision indicates at least some deference towards reporters and the need for unbiased reporting in today’s media. While names like Valerie Plame often come to mind when contemplating journalistic rights in today’s legal environment, it is encouraging to know that some American jurists are defending the rights of reporters who pursue their work with passion, vigor, and integrity.

DeRogatis, who could potentially be prosecuted for federal child pornography offenses after merely viewing the tape, was serving the best interest of the public when he supposedly copied the anonymously-submitted video to accurately report its contents, thereafter notifying law enforcement officials about the startling developments. Judge Gaughan should be applauded for recognizing that such controversial behavior is commendable, and reporters in situations similar to DeRogatis’ should not be further subjected to legal consequences. The decision of a journalist to act vigilantly is difficult enough without mixing in the fear of federal prosecution.

James Gibson

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