NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · CONNECTICUT · Confidentiality/Privilege · May 4, 2006
Legislature passes qualified reporter’s shield law
May 4, 2006 · Journalists in Connecticut will have a qualified privilege from revealing sources, notes and other information beginning Oct. 1, under a bill the state legislature overwhelmingly passed Wednesday. Gov. M. Jodi Rell is expected to sign the bill.
“We’re very pleased that we could make this happen,” said William Fish, a media attorney who represents numerous newspapers in the state. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The bill, H.B. 5212 — An Act Concerning Freedom of the Press — passed the Senate unanimously early Wednesday morning after senators watered down the original bill, which had easily passed in the House, containing an absolute privilege for sources and information. The revised bill quickly passed the House 136-11 vote.
“It’s definitely better than nothing,” Fish said. “The bill that was passed is much stronger than the state’s case law. It will be nice to have something specific when I’m up there in front of a judge.”
The bill provides a qualified privilege in the state’s courts for members of the news media — a definition which includes newspapers, magazines, book publishers, broadcasters, and even electronic media. The privilege requires the party seeking the information, whether in a civil or criminal case, to show that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe a crime has occurred or to sustain a cause of action.
If the party seeking the information must also prove by clear and convincing evidence that the information sought is “necessary” to the claim, not available from “any alternative source” and that there is “an overriding public interest in the disclosure,” according to the bill.
The similar shield law bill was introduced last year, but it never made it out of committee for a vote.
“I’m speculating, but I would imagine all the national publicity of reporter’s shield cases helped move this process along,” Fish said.
Media lawyers in Connecticut have been sought a stronger shield law ever since WJAR television reporter Jim Taricani in neighboring Rhode Island was sentenced to home confinement for six months on a federal criminal contempt charge in 2004 for refusing to name the person who leaked him an FBI tape showing a public official accepting a bribe from a government informant.
Connecticut’s new shield law does not affect subpoenas in federal court, where Taricani was convicted and sentenced, but, as a Connecticut native, he was one of the champions of the bill and rallied supporters for a shield law in Connecticut.