Political Radar

`A sense of sadness'

April 27th, 2013

The Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii chapter on Saturday asked state lawmakers to vote against the conference draft of a news media shield law.

The request, by Stirling Morita, the SPJ chapter president, follows a similar plea by the Media Council of Hawaii on Friday.

Much of the disappointment with the conference draft in media circles has centered on the exclusion of bloggers and other non-traditional journalists, and while Morita makes that point in his letter to lawmakers, he also cites the fact that the exceptions to the shield law would be expanded for the traditional journalists the law would still cover.

Lawmakers who support a strong shield law -- one lawmaker said privately on Friday -- will have to decide whether it is better to keep a weakened law in place and attempt to improve it later or to scrap the law and start over.

From Morita, a night city editor at the Star-Advertiser:

It is with a sense of sadness that I must ask you to vote against House Bill 622, HD1, SD1, CD1, Relating to Evidence. We have tried hard to renew a law that has worked for five years and is being crippled by the Attorney General’s Office, which has no facts to back up its contentions that the law should be dramatically revised.

The intent of shield laws is to benefit journalism but this bill will no longer do so.

This bill exempts so many instances from the source protection privilege that it is almost like having no shield law at all. The media would be better off arguing case law because that’s virtually all the bill allows.

4 Responses to “`A sense of sadness'”

  1. Sayer:

    The revisions to the law seek to establish protection only for "legitimate" journalists - i.e. those employed by corporate-owned publications. The beauty of the internet is that it allows a voice for regular people not controlled by financially motivated editorial boards. All journalists, including bloggers, should be protected.

  2. kamaaina808:

    The word "journalist" conjures up visions of an individual with an impartial voice, reporting facts. So hard to find a real journalist these days, imho. So who, exactly, do you protect? The 'opinion' journalist? Or the real thing? If an investigative piece is impartial, regardless of source (blogger, reporter - paid or otherwise) I'm all for protecting the journalist's source(s). If, after doing said investigation, the 'journalist' whoever they may be -blogger or otherwise - is biased in their reporting, then what is there to protect? You're already not getting 'facts' but instead, you're getting opinion masquerading as journalism. Blanket protection doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

  3. Bart Dame:

    When the Shield Law was passed in 2008, it was heralded by many as the best such law in the country. OTOH, some law enforcement predicted it would hamper investigation of crimes. Out of respect for these concerns, a sunset provision was inserted into the law in order to force the Legislature to review the impact of the law and see if these concerns were well-founded.

    This year was the time for conducting such a review. But there was NO testimony from law enforcement this year citing examples of how the strong Shield Law had impaired their work. But instead of removing the sunset provision and making the law permanent, opponents of the law used this session to gut the law to the point there no "shield" left and "common law" is likely to provide more protection for the process of journalism than this new law.

    In my view, a journalist should have protections from law enforcement similar to that of priests, psychiatrists and attorneys. In order to carry their socially beneficial role of serving their clients, these professions are granted a privacy privilege, which shields their interactions with their patients/clients. Even when an attorney's client may be a despicable criminal and public opinion may not WANT to grant him his privacy, when understand this right is essential for the healthy functioning of our criminal justice system, so society benefits.

    The same argument applies to journalists and their relationship with sources. If journalists are not able to promise their sources confidentiality, whistleblowers will be MUCH less willing to share information about events to which they are privy. I can understand why government officials may want to be able to shut down the healthy functioning of investigative journalism. But I think society as a whole benefits, on balance, from such activity and this provides a strong argument to preserve a strong shield law.

    And no one is talking about "blanket protection." If a journalist (or priest, doctor, lawyer, etc.,) has awareness that a crime is likely to be committed which might lead to bodily harm, they are obliged to share that information with law enforcement, even under the current, "STRONG" shield law.

  4. Especially Incognito:

    Don Hewitt of Sixty Minutes said "Tell me a story".

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