Congress should join in shielding journalists
A new law gives limited protection to journalists from revealing their sources.
JOURNALISTS in Hawaii have been given protection of their sources under a new law signed by Gov. Linda Lingle. Congressional legislation providing a shield for reporters appears stuck in the Senate after gaining House approval and is opposed by President Bush so may have to wait until next year to become federal law.
Reporters who work or have ever worked for a newspaper, magazine, news agency, radio or television are protected by the state law. The law also covers online bloggers if they regularly publish news considered to be in the public interest.
Exemptions are given for information considered material to felony cases, defamation in civil cases, public safety, consent of disclosure by the source or when, under certain circumstances, the person claiming the protection observed a crime.
Hawaii joins 32 other states and the District of Columbia with similar protections. "It is the kind of protection we hope will never be necessary in Hawaii," said David Briscoe, Honolulu bureau chief of the Associated Press and president of the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Briscoe said the Hawaii law is among the strongest.
The first beneficiary could be Malia Zimmerman of Hawaiireporter.com, who has been subpoenaed by attorneys for James Pflueger to reveal her source of information in her report of the March 2006 collapse of Kauai's Kalolo Dam, owned by Pflueger.
The bill in Congress would exempt protection of sources when relating to preventing acts of terrorism; preventing imminent death or significant bodily harm; certain trade secrets, health information or financial information; and classified information that would cause significant harm. In the presidential race, both Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain have said they support the bill.
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