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A Battle To Protect Our Sources




As many readers of this website are aware, FITSNews and its founding editor Will Folks were sued for libel not long ago by former S.C. Rep. Kenny Bingham.  On the advice of our attorneys, we have remained very quiet about this case – choosing to let the evidence and the merits of our legal arguments stand on their own.

We will continue to adhere to this counsel … trusting the judicial system of South Carolina to render a fair verdict in the matter based on the law and the facts.

There is, however, one peripheral issue related to this case that we believe is worth mentioning as we enter our second decade of covering news and politics in the state of South Carolina.  It involves efforts by Bingham’s counsel to compel our founding editor to reveal the names of multiple confidential sources – individuals who provided us with information that we maintain is wholly unrelated to the substance of the complaint he has brought against us.

To be clear: There is but one source related to the substance of this case – and that individual knowingly and willingly went on the record with us from the very beginning (something he has since affirmed under oath).

It is curious, then, that the identities of multiple confidential sources with absolutely nothing to do with this case are still being sought – ostensibly so as to provide insight into our website’s “vetting process.”

As for our sources, make no mistake: We protected them then, we are protecting them now and we will continue to protect them in the future – no matter what.  That is the code of the news-gathering profession.  And even more fundamentally, we gave these individuals our word.

Like other media outlets in this state, we have a wide-ranging network of confidential informants who provide us with a wealth of information related to any number of subjects – and it is our duty to protect each and every one of these sources.  Accordingly, over the Christmas break our attorneys filed a writ of certiorari in the original jurisdiction of the S.C. Supreme Court seeking to do just that.

“One should not be able to uncover a reporter’s sources by the simple expedient of filing a civil action and then making a ‘relevant’ discovery request,” our attorneys argued in filing their motion.  “As a matter of sound public policy, the protection of a news reporter’s confidential sources is every bit as important as the protection of a company’s trade secrets.”

In fact, the S.C. Supreme Court has previously ruled that the production of such vital trade information is required only if “the issues (of the case) cannot be fairly adjudicated unless the information is available.”

The purpose of this post is not to embarrass any of the judges involved in these proceedings – which is why we are not naming them nor are we linking to the various pleadings in the case (although these documents are a matter of public record should anyone care to look).  We respect all of the judges who have heard the various motions and counter-motions attendant to this dispute – and we appreciate the time and effort they have put forth in support of their well-reasoned arguments.  We simply disagree with the notion that this website should be compelled to disclose the identity its confidential informants – especially seeing as these sources have no relevance to the dispute at hand.

Whatever the Supreme Court ultimately decides in this matter, we hope all those who trust this website with sensitive information will be comforted by the steps we have taken – and will continue to take – to safeguard their anonymity.

We also hope journalists across the state (and nation) will recognize the threat this case poses to their business models – and join us in our effort to protect whistleblowers and other confidential informants from being exposed on a whim.

(Banner via iStock)