Journalists in Durham, N.C., have gained a measure of protection from citizens looking to file frivolous criminal charges against them, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. A new judicial policy requires the District Attorney’s Office to review any warrants sworn out by a citizen against a working journalist. The policy, as yet unwritten, places journalists in the same category as police officers, emergency workers and public school teachers, whose jobs make them vulnerable to angry people who could use the justice system to harass them or seek retribution.
The change is in response to a harassing-phone-call charge filed by a woman who was unhappy with calls to her home from a News & Observer reporter. Durham District Attorney Jim Hardin dropped that charge last week after deciding that reporter Demorris Lee was trying to do a fair and balanced story when he called Ruth Brown, a Durham police employee whose testimony helped convict a robbery suspect. “We all want the press to do the job that they do,” said Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson. “It’s much more common to have an irate parent who wants to take out a warrant on a teacher or an irate person who’s been arrested to want to retaliate immediately against the officer. I don’t see the reporter’s situation being quite that volatile, but it could be.” The policy does not exempt journalists from prosecution. It is designed to deter people angry about news gathering from filing unfounded charges against journalists.