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The Arkansas governor signed late last month an amendment to the state shield law that will protect television and Internet reporters from the compelled disclosure of their sources. The amended act will go into law 90 days after the state legislature officially adjourns.
Arkansas' shield law was introduced in 1937 and was previously amended once, in 1949, to include the then-new media of radio, Philip Anderson, a media lawyer with Williams & Anderson PLC in Little Rock, explained. In 1983, a federal case held that television journalists are also covered by the law. Anderson said the shield law has "been around for a long time," but "for the first time it expressly covers television reporting and any online news source."
The bill was approved unanimously in the House and the Senate. Anderson expects that the state Legislature will unofficially adjourn for about one month, during which time staff will review the session's work and, if no issues arise, the Legislature will then officially adjourn. If this timeline proves true, the amendment will become law by fall.
With the amendment, the Arkansas shield law will read: “Before any editor, reporter, or other writer for any newspaper, periodical, radio station, television station, or Internet news source, or publisher of any newspaper, periodical, or Internet news source, or manager or owner of any radio station shall be required to disclose to any grand jury or to any other authority the source of information used as the basis for any article he or she may have written, published, or broadcast, it must be shown that the article was written, published, or broadcast in bad faith, with malice, and not in the interest of the public welfare.”
The amendment was adopted after Michael Tilley, co-owner and editor of The City Wire, an online publication, contacted Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, to ask if the shield law needed to be updated to include more modern media outlets. Tilley said that, in discussions with lawyers and legislators, it was decided that "It never hurts to take the grey area out of the law."