Florida enacts shield law protecting sources, information
FLORIDA–In mid-May a bill providing journalists with protection against subpoenas became law.
The law creates a qualified privilege allowing “professional journalists” to refuse to disclose all information, including the identities of sources, obtained while actively gathering news. The privilege can be overcome and journalists compelled to testify only if the information sought is relevant to a legal proceeding, there is no alternative source for the information, and there is a compelling need for disclosure.
Dick Shelton, executive director of the Florida Press Association, told the Associated Press that the law will “make it a little more difficult for attorneys and judges to subpoena a reporter, and it should be. When you have a reporter testifying for one side or the other, his credibility gets eaten up pretty quickly.”
The “Journalist’s Privilege” bill, introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Donald Sullivan (R-Seminole), passed the Senate by a vote of 31-8, and the state House of Representatives voted 105-7 to approve it. The bill became law after it was signed by Gov. Lawton Chiles.
The bill, along with another shield bill introduced in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Luis Rojas (R-Naples) and Rep. Alex de la Portilla (R-Miami), was first introduced during the 1997 legislative session, but the bills died when the legislature adjourned without taking action on them. Both bills were reintroduced in the 1998 session. (1998 Fla. Laws ch. 48)