Yesterday, in a New York City federal court, Judge Ronald Ellis blocked an ongoing attempt by New York City to get its hands on footage obtained by filmmaker Ken Burns, daughter Sarah Burns and son-in-law David McMahon, while making their documentary The Central Park Five.
The city wanted the footage due to a $250 million dollar federal lawsuit against the city, filed by the five men, after their 1989 rape and assault sentences were vacated when they finally proved that they were innocent of the crime, when the real culprit confessed to the crime and DNA evidence supported their claims of innocence.
The city claimed that Burns, the other filmmakers and his production company Florentine Films, were not independent journalists entitled to reporter’s privilege. But Judge Ellis ruled that the filmmakers had “established its independence in the making of the film” and could claim the privilege.
Ellis also said that the city had failed to “address the requirements of relevance and significance of the materials it sought and had failed to demonstrate they are not available from another source”.
Burns, after the decision came down, said that he was grateful for the judge’s ruling and that “this adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere.”
All this, of course, clears the way for the lawsuit against the city to proceed.