How Journalists are Protected and their Sources?

There are laws established for businesses like heavy duty towing and in other industries to protect them from irregularities and also, to prevent them from abuse. The same thing can be said among journalists. For instance, shield laws are created to give journalists qualified or absolute privilege in refusing to disclose their sources or information acquired through the course of gathering the news.

There’s no such thing as Federal Shield Law

Back in 2018, the District of Columbia and 49 other states enacted some sort of shield law. The Congress is trying to pass the federal shield law way back 2005. Since then, it was named as Free Flow of Information Act. Then in 2017, the efforts were renewed by another bill that’s co-sponsored by US Representative Jim Jordan, R-Ohio and US Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland. Unfortunately, the bill wasn’t passed.

What Shield Laws is for Journalist?

As mentioned, shield law is providing qualified or absolute privilege, although in California, it interprets the law as something that creates immunity against finding contempt instead of a giving privilege. Privileges can be extended to information, sources or sometimes, both.

There are some statutes that are specifying that the privileges are applied to the proceedings before legislative and executive branches and even to judicial proceedings.

Actual conditions to which claims of qualified privilege might be superseded varies.

Shield Law as per State

Under normal circumstances, shield law is requiring the party to seek testimony from the journalist and to demonstrate. The objective is to demonstrate that the obtained information is material, relevant and unobtainable from alternative sources. There are other statutes specifying which actions are constituting waiver of the privilege. For instance, before publication or disclosure of the information requested, it would null the privilege.

Then again, there are shield laws that are taken from other exceptions. A good example for this can be found in the Minnesota Free Flow of Information Act. It declares that the privileges doesn’t apply in libel actions to which the party that seeks disclosure could demonstrate the source’s identity would result to relevant evidence on the issue. Even with such cases, disclosure won’t be compelled without illustrating that the information can’t be acquired from other means.