Blogs need shield laws, expert tells UH crowd
Shield laws should protect all journalists, including citizen reporters and bloggers, from being forced to give the names of confidential sources, an international investigative journalist said yesterday.
That is because the distinction between professional and citizen journalists is getting blurred as citizen journalists improve their skills and professional organizations rely more on the community to provide information, said Sheila Coronel, director of the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University and an award winner for her investigative reports in the Philippines.
"The lines are becoming so crossed it's almost pointless to make such a distinction," Coronel said yesterday during a Freedom of Information Day luncheon at the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus. "It will come to a point when it's useless to say that these protections only apply to journalists who are employed by a mainstream news organization."
Coronel's comments came as Hawaii lawmakers discuss a bill (HB 2557) to protect reporters from jail time if they refuse to name confidential sources.
Under the proposed shield law, a journalist or anyone previously employed as a journalist would be protected from disclosing information about a source. The bill also covers those who helped collect the information, such as photographers and editors.
Thirty-three states have shield laws or some protections; Hawaii has none.
Nationally, shield laws have received some debate as more reporters are called to testify in criminal cases. In one case in 2003, Rhode Island television reporter Jim Tracini spent four months in home confinement for refusing to name a source in federal court.
Coronel said she has heard from some reporters who use encryption software, save data on flash drives instead of on a computer, and use disposable cell phones to protect their information.
After her talk, she said shield laws are critical to protecting sources that endanger themselves to expose corruption in powerful organizations.
"It's very hard, especially for whistle-blowers who talk about large-scale wrongdoing in private companies. They would have no protections" without a shield law, she said.
Coronel also highlighted yesterday the issues facing investigative reporting with dozens of media professionals and residents at the luncheon organized by the Honolulu Community Media Council and Society of Professional Journalists, among other groups.
Market pressures have given the world more access to news than ever before, she said, but the costs can still be deadly. In some countries journalists are being targeted for their reports.
Business competition has also reduce spending on investigative reporting as media companies turn to "infotainment" and reality television shows, she said.