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Tech investor attempts to compel U.S. journalist to identify confidential source

December 18, 2019

On Oct. 31, 2019, venture capital investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist Shervin Pishevar filed an application for discovery against Fast Company senior news editor Marcus Baram in an effort to uncover identifying information about a source cited in a 2017 article.

In September 2017, Baram met with a confidential source who claimed to have information concerning the arrest of the tech investor on suspicion of sexual assault in London that May. The source also claimed to have a copy of the police report from that arrest. In a response to a request for comment, Pishevar confirmed his arrest in a statement to Fast Company.

Information provided by the source and contained in the alleged police report was used in an article published by Fast Company in November 2017, having received inconclusive responses from the City of London Police concerning the document’s authenticity. The police report was later proven to be fabricated.

Fast Company received a subpoena from lawyers representing Pishevar in August 2019, seeking information they hoped to use in possible future court cases, or “contemplated criminal and civil proceedings in England,” according to a memorandum of law obtained by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

General counsel for the magazine largely complied with the subpoena and follow up emails from Pishevar’s attorneys. They did not, however, provide identifying information about Baram’s confidential source, stating that Baram claimed reporter’s privilege under New York’s shield law.

Lucas Bento, an attorney for Pishevar, acknowledged that identifying information about the source was the central aim of the subpoena, and threatened to pursue a court-ordered deposition of Baram if Fast Company did not provide the identifying information voluntarily.

Bento followed through on this threat on Oct. 31, filing an application for discovery for documents, communications and testimony from Baram. The application, which is the process by which subpoenas are issued by foreign parties and approved by U.S. courts, was obtained and reviewed by the Tracker.

In an affidavit opposing the application filed on Dec. 4, Baram said that he often relies on speaking with sources on the condition of anonymity.

“My ability to report on matters of public interest depends on my ability to safeguard the identities of my sources and the confidentiality of the information that they provide. I have never revealed a confidential source,” Baram said.

In addition to asserting his reporter’s privilege, Baram wrote that he was asserting his privilege against self-incrimination. He noted concerns that — while he maintains he committed no crime — Pishevar may pursue criminal charges against him.

“I am appalled that my honest newsgathering and truthful reporting about [City of London Police’s] arrest of Mr. Pishevar (a fact he has acknowledged) could result in criminal allegations against me by Mr. Pishevar,” Baram said.

This article was updated to reflect that Shervin Pishevar confirmed his arrest to Fast Company.

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

February 18, 2020 Update

A federal judge for the Southern District of New York issued a final order dismissing an application for discovery against Fast Company senior news editor Marcus Baram on Feb. 18, 2020.

Shervin Pishevar, a venture capital investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, filed an application for discovery against Baram in October 2019 in an effort to force him to identify the confidential source of a forged police report.

United States Magistrate Judge Stewart Aaron ruled that Pishevar failed to show that the information could not be obtained from other sources and did not overcome Baram’s claim of reporter’s privilege.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in support of Baram and shared a copy of the ruling with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Linda Moon, a national security and free press fellow at RCFP, said that Pishevar has 30 days to file a notice of appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

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