Thursday, April 07, 2011

West Virginia enacts first statute for reporter's privilege; Arkansas expands its law to TV, online

A pair of states have strengthened the privilege afforded to journalists for protecting confidential sources. This week West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the state's shield bill into law, making West Virginia the 40th state to provide statutory protection for subpoenaed reporters. Nine other states have protection in case law, as West Virginia already did. Only Wyoming lacks the protection.

"The measure provides journalists with a nearly absolute reporter’s privilege to refuse to disclose the identity of confidential sources, and documents or other information that could identify confidential sources, in civil, criminal, administrative and grand jury proceedings," Kristen Rasmussen of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press writes. Disclosure of that information can be compelled only if it is "necessary to prevent imminent death, serious bodily injury or unjust incarceration." West Virginia's law defines a reporter as "someone who gathers and disseminates news to the public for a portion of the person’s livelihood, suggesting that freelance journalists would be protected, while unpaid bloggers would not." Presumably, though, bloggers who makle money from advertising would be covered. The law specifically covers unpaid student journalists. (Read more)

Arkansas first passed its shield law in 1937, when television was still pretty much in the laboratory. Last month, state lawmakers amended the law to protect TV and online reporters. The bill was approved unanimously in the House and the Senate, and the law will go into effect 90 days after the legislature officially adjourns. Michael Tilley, co-owner and editor of The City Wire, an online publication, contacted a state senator to consider amending the law. He told Kacey Dreamer of the Reporters Committee that after consulting with lawyers and legislators they decided "It never hurts to take the gray area out of the law." (Read more)

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