Thursday, February 18, 2010

Legislature to Hold Hearing on Reporters' Shield Bill

Massachusetts remains one of the minority of states without a shield law to protect journalists' confidential sources. That could change if a bill to be heard by the legislature next week becomes law. The bill, House Bill 1650, would prohibit courts and government agencies from forcing members of the news media to reveal their news sources. The bill would also protect reporters against the compelled disclosure of notes, outtakes, photographs and recordings.

The bill is under review by the legislature's Joint Committee on the Judiciary, which has scheduled it for a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m. in State House Room B1. If you have any interest in supporting this bill, you should show up and make your position known to the members of the committee.

Notably, the bill as drafted would cover some bloggers as well as traditional print and broadcast journalists. Coverage is not based on a journalist's employment, but on the journalist's engagement in "bona fide news gathering" for any form of news media. "News media" is defined as "any entity that is in the regular business of news gathering and disseminating news or information to the public by any means, including, but not limited to, print, broadcast, photographic, mechanical, internet, or electronic distribution."

Thus, a blogger who is engaged in news gathering and who regularly gathers and disseminates news would be covered by the bill if it became law.

This bill is derived from one that was filed in the previous session of the legislature and that I helped draft as part of an ad hoc coalition of journalists, news organizations and media lawyers. That bill died without ever being reported out of the Judiciary Committee.

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