Shield Law Cited in Jackson Case
British TV journalist Martin Bashir asked a judge Tuesday to reject a bid by prosecutors to have him testify in Michael Jackson’s upcoming child molestation trial.
Bashir’s 2003 documentary, “Living With Michael Jackson,” triggered a furor when the pop star admitted that he enjoyed sleepovers with young boys. Santa Barbara County prosecutors say the uproar so upset Jackson that he kept a 12-year-old boy and his family captive at his Neverland ranch while arranging for their participation in a “rebuttal video.”
Jackson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he sexually abused the boy and conspired to cover it up. He is free on $3-million bail. Jury selection in his trial is to start Jan. 31.
In a motion filed Tuesday, Bashir contends that under California’s shield law, reporters cannot be forced to testify about the things they observe in the course of doing a story.
The documentary “speaks for itself,” Bashir’s motion said, adding that ABC-TV, which aired it in the United States, can verify any part of it that is used as evidence in court.
However, prosecutors suggested in their motion for Bashir’s appearance that they wanted much more.
“Conversations with the defendant concerning his sleeping arrangements with children, and particularly with the victim of the current case, are clearly material, relevant and necessary,” the motion said.
Prosecutors pointed out that Bashir did seven months of interviews with Jackson to compile the two-hour documentary.
Although California’s shield law is part of the state’s evidence code and incorporated into the state Constitution, the judge may still require Bashir to testify, said Douglas Mirell, a 1st Amendment attorney in Los Angeles.
“One of the problems that Bashir has is that this is a criminal case,” he said. “The extent to which courts have been willing to intrude on the shield privilege in civil cases has been significantly less.”
Mirell said that Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville could force Bashir to take the witness stand if he believes the journalist’s research provides an answer to the case’s central question: Did Jackson molest the boy?
If Bashir refuses to testify, he could be held in contempt of court.
When he made the documentary, Bashir worked for Granada Television in the United Kingdom. He now works for ABC News and plans to cover the Jackson trial.
If he is forced to testify, Bashir asked that the judge exempt him from a gag order on attorneys and witnesses, calling it a violation of his 1st Amendment rights.
Bashir’s motion is to be considered at a Jan. 28 hearing.