A shield for news

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Missouri is one of 18 states that provide no special privilege for information gathered by news reporters. Now a shield law has been proposed that appears to have some momentum, with state Sen. Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau sponsoring such a bill in this year's legislative session. House Speaker Rod Jetton of Marble Hill, Mo., has endorsed the idea.

News-gathering organizations are not above the law and have the same responsibilities as any other law-abiding citizen. But information gathered by journalists has been recognized in 32 states as being privileged under certain -- if not all -- circumstances, particularly when that information is gathered from sources who have been promised anonymity.

The impetus for the proposed Missouri law is driven mainly by what many news organizations see as an abuse of subpoena power by attorneys in lawsuits where it's easy to demand access to what a reporter knows, even if such facts were never reported. In effect, too many lawyers are relying on news organization to do the legwork they should be doing.

The proposed law would provide limited protection for reporters, since it would still allow judges to force reporters to disclose information and sources in certain cases. But any protection from a shield law is a step in the right direction.

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