Can I be punished for asking “the wrong question?”

No. No one is obliged to talk to a journalist.  Correspondingly, no journalist can be forbidden from, or held legally liable for, asking questions of a person ready and willing to speak. “(T)he news gathering component of the freedom of the press—the right to seek out information—is privileged at least to the extent it involves ‘routine … reporting techniques.’ … Such techniques, of course, include asking persons questions, including those with confidential or restricted information.” Nicholson v. McClatchy Newspapers, 177 Cal.App.3d 509, (3d Dist. 1986). But the problem is far more often one of controls on the source’s speech by some third party.  Knowing when and to what extent those controls are unlawful is important for a journalist hoping to persuade a reluctant source to provide information.

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