Media law professor: Hannity could be required to testify in Zimmerman case despite Florida shield law

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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Syndicated radio host and Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity may be forced to testify about an off-the-record conversation he has told audiences he had with accused Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman.

Even though journalists are protected by a shield law in the state of Florida, some have said that Hannity’s role as a media commentator may disqualify him those protections. Andrew D. Manko, an adjunct instructor of mass media law at Florida State University, told The Daily Caller that Hannity does indeed qualify for those protections, but may have to testify anyway, depending on what was said in the private conversation.

“My sense is that the question of whether the privilege applies is very fact intensive,” Manko wrote TheDC in an email. “Hannity appears to meet the definition of a news reporter providing he met with Zimmerman as part of his regular duties on behalf of Fox.”

Manko cited a 1998 Florida Supreme Court case, Kindell v. State, which set the parameters of the protections of Florida’s shield law:

In Kidwell, a defendant was interviewed and confessed to a reporter, but the reporter was protected by the shield law because the defendant also confessed to police, and there wasn’t any reason to think that any additional information was given to the reporter that wasn’t offered to other sources. The court noted that “[e]xtreme care must be taken to ensure that the media is not used as an investigative arm of the government.” However, “if it is determined that the reporter has direct evidence of a crime, then the information should not be privileged … [because] the privilege does not apply to eyewitness observations or physical evidence, including records, of a crime. Like an eyewitness observation, a direct confession to a reporter is direct evidence of a crime that would not fall within the information protected under the qualified privilege.”

Based on that case, Hannity could in fact be required by law to testify in Zimmerman’s trial if he has information law enforcement does not have in its investigation of Zimmerman.

“So my answer is ‘qualified’ and it will depend on what was said to Hannity,”Manko concluded. “If the info disclosed to Hannity would be considered an eyewitness account or a direct confession (which seems likely) then it appears the privilege would not apply, unless the police already have the same info from its discussions with Zimmerman.”

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