Washington House committee approves journalist shield bill

[via WorldLink.com]

A bill that would protect journalists from facing prison for not revealing confidential sources heads to a vote on the Washington State House floor after a committee overwhelmingly passed it Friday.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the measure on a 10-1 vote with no debate.

The bill would grant reporters absolute privilege for protecting confidential sources - the same exemption from testifying in court that is granted to spouses, attorneys, clergy and police officers.Advertisement

Currently, Washington has no shield law, but its courts have ruled in favor of qualified privilege based on the First Amendment and on common law.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have enacted shield laws. A federal shield law had been considered in the 109th Congress, but no law was passed last year.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said four other states also are considering shield laws this year: Utah, Missouri, Massachusetts and Texas.

Washington's proposed law would provide a more limited privilege on materials such as unpublished notes and tapes.

Under its provisions, the media could be forced to disclose that information under certain circumstances, including when a judge finds it is necessary in a criminal or civil case and cannot be obtained elsewhere.

The measure overwhelmingly passed the House last year on a bipartisan 87-11 vote only to get stopped in the Senate, where it was never brought up for a floor vote. It had a public hearing in the Senate last month, and supporters there were more confident of its chances this year.

The bill defines a member of the media as anyone who earns a substantial portion of his or her income from publishing or broadcasting. Generally, authors of occasional opinion pieces or Internet bloggers would not be covered.

article originally published at http://www.theworldlink.com/articles/2007/02/03/news/news13020307.txt.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey