Global Under Menu

News

Honolulu Star-Bulletin Protect press sources in federal court cases

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Oct. 21, 2007

THE ISSUE

The U.S. House has approved a bill that would protect journalists from identifying their confidential sources in federal court.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the lone Democrat to vote against a media shield law, is c

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Oct. 21, 2007

THE ISSUE

The U.S. House has approved a bill that would protect journalists from identifying their confidential sources in federal court.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the lone Democrat to vote against a media shield law, is correct in arguing that the First Amendment alone should protect journalists from disclosing their confidential sources. Unfortunately, the federal courts have ruled otherwise and a shield law is needed to establish a modicum of protection with consistency throughout the U.S. judicial system.

The bill was approved by an overwhelming 398-21 vote in the House, more than enough to override a veto promised by President Bush. It includes exceptions that would allow a federal judge to force disclosure of documents or sources to prevent an act of terrorism, "critical" in a criminal case or "essential" in an investigation or prosecution of a leak of classified information that "has caused or will cause significant and articulable harm to the national security." Disclosure also could be ordered for sources of trade secrets or private medical records.

If enacted, it would protect two San Francisco Chronicle reporters from a federal judge's threat to jail them for refusing to disclose a source in their investigation of steroid use in Major League Baseball. It is too late to help former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail two years ago by order of a federal judge in the Valerie Plame leak case.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in 1972 that the First Amendment does not protect journalists from revealing their sources. More than 30 states have shield laws providing such protection. Hawaii's Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that protection of sources should be balanced against competing interests. That state precedent has sufficed.

Archive

Contributors

...