Washington Leg passes journalist shield law

[Associated Press]

OLYMPIA - A measure that would keep journalists who refuse to reveal confidential sources out of jail is headed to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The state House agreed to Senate changes in the bill on a 94-1 vote Monday. Gregoire's spokeswoman Holly Armstrong said the governor was expected to sign it.

The main changes the Senate made were to narrow the definition of "news media," said the bill's sponsor, House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam.

"It does make sure the people who will be eligible for this privilege are indeed in the business of news media," Kessler said.

The bill would protect people who are in the business of gathering news, but not bloggers or university professors who do not make a majority of their living doing so.

It grants reporters absolute privilege for protecting confidential sources - the same exemption from testifying in court that is granted to spouses, attorneys, clergy and police officers.

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.

Attorney General Rob McKenna has lobbied for the bill, saying it promotes open government.

"He believes reporter shield laws protect whistle blowers by guaranteeing confidentiality," his spokeswoman Janelle Guthrie said. "Without this protection, those who fear for their livelihoods would be too discouraged to speak up on matters that are important to the public."

article originally published at http://www.heraldnet.com/stories/07/04/17/100wir_b5report001.cfm.

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