NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON · Confidentiality/Privilege · April 27, 2007
Reporter’s shield bill will become law
April 27, 2007 · Today, Washington is poised to become the 33rd state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to pass a reporter’s shield law that allows reporters to protect their sources and materials.
Gov. Chris Gregoire is scheduled to sign the bill into law this afternoon. The legislation passed overwhelmingly in both the state House of Representatives and Senate earlier this year.
The new law provides absolute protection for confidential sources, which means that a journalist can never be compelled to reveal the identity of a source who seeks to remain anonymous.
The law also says that a reporter can only be compelled to reveal nonconfidential newsgathering information — including notes and outtakes — when there is a valid civil or criminal proceeding, the information sought is both “highly material and relevant” and critical to the case, and the party seeking the information has exhausted all other sources for the information. Additionally, there must be a “compelling public interest” in disclosing the information.
A similar bill introduced in 2006 passed in the House but failed to reach the Senate for a vote. Last year’s legislation faced opposition from Texas-based insurance company United Services Automobile Association (USAA) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), but for opposite reasons.
USAA testified that the 2006 bill was too strong and would harm businesses; SPJ alleged that the bill didn’t offer enough protection for newsgathering materials and nontraditional journalists. But this year, USAA did not publicly oppose the legislation and SPJ supported the bill.
(H.B. 1366) — ES