Jan. 25, 2008 · The Utah Supreme Court adopted a comprehensive reporter’s shield rule on Wednesday, providing protection for reporters from damaging requests to identify confidential sources and obtain newsgathering information.
The court adopted Rule 509 of the Utah Rules of Evidence just one day after the public comment period expired. But that speedy action came after several years of work by media advocates and a court advisory committee. The committee submitted a much less protective rule to the court in September 2006, but the court rejected it.
Jeffrey Hunt, an attorney who led a coalition of media groups that has campaigned for the rule for more than three years, said the shield is among the strongest in the country.
The privilege grants near-absolute protection for the name and any information that would lead to the disclosure of the identity of confidential sources. Under the rule, a journalist will only have to identify a confidential source where there is clear and convincing evidence that the information is necessary to prevent substantial injury or death.
The rule also protects unpublished news information including notes, outtakes, photographs and tapes, though to a lesser extent than confidential sources. Judges will apply a balancing test in determining whether such information should be disclosed. The test will feature a heightened standard for parties to overcome if the unpublished news information comes from a confidential source.
In a statement released Thursday, state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff praised the law, calling it a “banner day for the First Amendment in Utah.”
The rule will help “ensure the free flow of information, which is so essential to open government and a democratic society,” Shurtleff said, adding that the law “gives reporters and potential sources the confidence that their communications will be protected.”
Utah joins 33 other states and the District of Columbia in sheltering reporters from subpoenas.
(Rule 509, Utah Rules of Evidence) — Matthew Pollack