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Q&A on the Free Flow of Information Act

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From the Fall 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 12. Q: Some stories say 49 states…

From the Fall 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 12.

Q: Some stories say 49 states have shield laws and others say 33 states and the District of Columbia. What’s the real number?

A: There are legislatively created shield laws similar to the measure currently being considered in Congress in 33 states and the District of Columbia. An additional 16 states have judicially crafted testimonial protections for journalists that have their roots in state constitutions, evidentiary rules or common law. Only Wyoming has no protection.

Q: The Justice Department says it has only subpoenaed 19 reporters to discover their confidential sources since 1991 so there’s not a problem. Is that accurate? 

A: That figure does not include subpoenas from special prosecutors and attorneys for private clients. By other counts, at least 40 reporters have been subpoenaed to turn over confidential information in the past three years alone.

In response to a 2006 Freedom of Information request submitted to Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Reporters Committee was informed that “approximately 65 requests for media subpoenas have been approved by the Attorney General since 2001.” The Reporters Committee makes no guarantee that this response is accurate.

Q: Has any shield law ever made it this far in Congress?

A: No shield law has ever even reached the floor of both the House and Senate, let alone passed in one house of Congress. —MP