U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Federal judge upholds subpoena demanding unreleased materials from Chicago’s CBS2 News

Incident Details

CBS 2 News Subpeona
October 26, 2021

A federal judge in Chicago, Illinois, upheld a subpoena on April 29, 2022, compelling CBS2 News to produce raw, unpublished video and audio footage as part of a lawsuit brought by a mother on behalf of her son.

According to court documents, the subpoena ordered CBS2 News to produce footage collected after a reporter interviewed the child, who was allegedly beaten in a school bathroom with belts provided by his teacher, and the child’s relative, who is accused of the assault.

The subpoena was originally issued to CBS2 News’ parent company, ViacomCBS, in June 2021 but was withdrawn on Oct. 21 after ViacomCBS objected, arguing that the media company was not the custodian of the footage.

On Oct. 26, lawyers for the plaintiff reissued identical subpoenas to a former CBS2 news editor, reporter Dave Savini and redirected ViacomCBS’ original subpoena to CBS Broadcasting, Inc. also known as CBS2 News, for footage gathered for a segment that aired in February 2019.

CBS2 objected to all of the subpoenas, stating that all materials were privileged newsgathering information. Attorneys for CBS2 also cited federal and state reporter’s privilege statutes, saying that collecting the files would be “unduly burdensome to produce.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit then filed a motion to compel CBS2 to produce the footage but agreed to narrow the scope, demanding only the video and audio outtake recordings of interviews with the child and accused assailant.

In her decision, United States Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan upheld the CBS2 subpoena and granted the motion to compel. Finnegan wrote that “there is no federal common-law reporter’s privilege applicable in this case, and CBS2 cannot withhold the requested audio/video outtakes on this basis.” The court ordered the outlet to produce the unreleased footage by May 13, 2022. The status of the other subpoenas is unknown.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]