Isle journalists get ‘shield’ law
A statute offers limited protections against writers being forced to disclose sources
Hawaii journalists will have limited protection from being forced to tell the police or courts who provided them information for news stories under a bill that Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law yesterday.
The bill, HB 2557, establishes a limited privilege against the compelled disclosure of sources and unpublished information to a legislative, executive or judicial body. The new law will expire at the end of June 2011.
"It is the kind of protection we hope will never be necessary in Hawaii," said veteran journalist David Briscoe with the Associated Press in Honolulu.
Briscoe, who is president of the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said the new law is one of the strongest among the 33 states with some form of protection for journalists.
It will protect journalists who publish their work on the Internet if they can show that they are writing in the public interest. Malia Zimmerman, who runs Hawaiireporter.com, has been subpoenaed by attorneys for James Pflueger. Zimmerman wrote about the March 2006 collapse of Kauai's Kalolo Dam, which is owned by Pflueger.
State Rep. Blake Oshiro, who steered the bill through the Legislature this year, said he was inspired by the federal case of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was jailed for 85 days in 2005 for refusing to identify which Bush administration officials had talked to her about CIA operative Valerie Plame.
"The media play an important role in terms of keeping government as well as big
businesses and corporations honest," said Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa). "Otherwise, the fear is that decisions get made in back rooms without any real light of truth being shined on them."
The law protects any reporter who has ever worked for a newspaper, magazine, news agency, radio station or television station. It covers online writers such as bloggers only if they hold a similar job to traditional journalists or regularly publish news in the public interest.
Hawaii prosecutors agreed to the measure after carving out exemptions for defense of felony cases, civil actions involving defamation, public safety, source consent to disclosure and when the person claiming the privilege has observed the alleged commission of a crime.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.