Director Ken Burns arrives for the New York Film Critics Circle awards in New York, January 7, 2013. (Photo : REUTERS/Carlo Allegri )
On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that New York City did not have the right to access footage from Ken Burns' documentary, "The Central Park Five," a film about the five men who were wrongly convicted of raping an investment banker known as the "Central Park Jogger" in 1989.
Burns' film put a spotlight on the Central Park jogger case and the five exonerated men who filed a $250 million lawsuit against the city of New York for allegedly coerced them into confessing to raping a woman and serving time in prison. After most of the men served their full sentences, the real culprit confessed to committing the crime.
The city subpoenaed the unused footage and other materials contending that Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns had an agenda partial to the plaintiffs and should not be covered by the journalists' shield law. However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis said that footage from the documentary is protected under the "precious rights of freedom of speech and the press." He added that the filmmakers had "established its independence in the making of the film" and may claim the privilege. He also said the city had failed to adequately address the requirements of relevance and significance of the materials it sought and had failed to demonstrate they are not available from another source.
In response, City attorney Celeste Koeleveld said city lawyers were "disappointed and reviewing our options."
"While journalistic privilege under the law is very important, we firmly believe it did not apply here. This film is a one-sided advocacy piece that depicts the plaintiffs' version of events as undisputed fact. It is our view that we should be able to view the complete interviews, not just those portions that the filmmakers chose to include," she said in a statement.
Burns said that he and his co-filmmakers are "grateful for this important decision."
"This adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere," he added.
His lawyer, John Siegal, called it a "marvelous decision for the media industry generally and documentary filmmakers in particular."