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Shield laws across the country

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From the Spring 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 33. Federal

From the Spring 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 33.


A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced reporter’s shield legislation in the House and Senate May 2. The bills would prevent journalists from having to reveal confidential sources, with exceptions for national security, imminent death, significant trade secrets, individually identifiable health information and nonpublic personal financial information. The bills also provide a qualified privilege for work product such as notes and outtakes in civil and criminal cases.


Under the state constitution, a reporter’s shield must be adopted as an amendment to the state Rules of Evidence by the Utah Supreme Court rather than by the Legislature. The most recently proposed reporter’s privilege, which provided a narrow qualified privilege for confidential information and no protection for nonconfidential information, garnered substantial criticism from journalists and media attorneys. In April, an advisory committee rejected the proposal and referred the matter back to a subcommittee with instructions to strengthen the privilege.


On May 1, the state Senate voted 27-4 to approve a shield bill that would give journalists a qualified privilege to not reveal confidential or nonconfidential information. The bill would establish guidelines for judges, who would typically have to weigh the interests of prosecutors or civil litigants who want the information against the public interest and the concerns of journalists.


In March, Missouri’s state House gave first-round approval to a shield bill that would require a court to consider the nature of the proceedings, whether the information is available elsewhere, and the relevancy of the information before a reporter could be compelled to disclose any information. Additionally, “the public interest in protecting the confidentiality of any source” must be “balanced against the public interest in requiring disclosure.” Although the bill was approved in the first round in the House, it will have to survive another House vote, and then a Senate vote, in order to reach the governor’s desk. — ES