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Utah high court adopts reporter's shield rule

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
Reporters in Utah are now protected by a shield law -- actually a Supreme Court rule, because the state's constitution…

Reporters in Utah are now protected by a shield law — actually a Supreme Court rule, because the state’s constitution gives the courts the authority in this area.

The rule comes not so long after another rule with far less protection was voted down by the court. An advisory committee had presented the court with a proposal back in September 2006, along with a better, but not recommended, "alternate" rule. Instead of taking either, the court sent everybody back to the drawing board. The result: a much better rule.

The rule provides for near-absolute protection of confidential sources; they only need be revealed if the requesting party shows by clear and convincing evidence that disclosure is needed to prevent substantial injury or death. Other information is protected unless the interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in the newsgathering right. The burden is on the requesting party to make that showing if the information is "confidential unpublished news information." And if the journalist loses in the balancing test, a judge must still review the material in chambers — meaning the other side doesn’t get to see it yet — before ordering it disclosed.

And the protections cover a wide range of journalists. The advisory committee note that is published with the rule makes clear that the Internet versions of the old "lone pamphleteers" are covered.

Utah is the 34th state, along with the District of Columbia, to enact a journalist’s privilege, although most of the others have been created by the legislatures. The U.S. House of Representatives also passed a shield bill recently by an overwhelming margin, but the Senate has not approved it yet.