Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bashir Faces Contempt

At question is what leeway Martin Bashir has under California's "shield law" which is designed to protect journalists from being forced in court to reveal sources. Under cover of this protection, Bashir refused to answer four questions from Jackson attorney Mesereau on Tuesday. From This Is London:

Throughout the cross-examination, Bashir's lawyers raised objections to the questioning. But four times the objections were overruled and Judge Melville asked Bashir if he wished to answer. Looking straight ahead into the courtroom he solemnly replied: "No, your honor, I do not."

When Mr Mesereau asked for Bashir to be held in contempt, Judge Melville said: "I will review all of the questions asked to the witness and the objections raised to see if the witness is in contempt of court. It is a really ticklish area."

Mr Mesereau asked the judge to strike Bashir's testimony from the case, which he refused to do.

Bashir, who now works for America's ABC News, refused to answer the following questions:
• "Did you get Michael Jackson to sign two documents without a lawyer present?"
• "How many hours of footage did you omit from the documentary?"
• "Are you covering this case as a correspondent who is paid?"
• "Before this film was shown, and I am talking about the actual film shown by the prosecution today, did you watch the trial reel?"

Melville is expected to rule today on whether Bashir will go to jail or whether he will pay a fine. I had heard this news before I read this and honestly, I'm questioning whether or not Bashir is truly covered by the intent of the shield law. None of these questions would force Bashir to reveal sources and almost all deal with journalistic issues and editorial decisions made by Bashir or his producers. California's shield law says journalists do not have to testify about unpublished material. Certainly the answers to all of them could be spun by the defense and provide potentially misleading information to a jury who doesn't understand how editorial decisions are made, but I'm going to be curious about the ruling if the judge finds that Bashir is protected. More likely, he'll find Bashir in contempt and fine him. Unfortunately, that may open up the video and Bashir's testimony to a motion to strike, gutting the prosecutions case for the molestation charges.


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