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Hawaii Mulls Journalism Shield Law

March 25th, 2008 by Ryan Ozawa · 1 Comment · Hawaii, Media, Politics, The Web

From the irrepressible Malia Zimmerman, editor of Hawaii Reporter, a call for testimony in support of HB 2557 HD1, which limits “compelled disclosure of sources or unpublished information” for journalists — otherwise known as a “journalism shield law.”

HB 2557 HD1 “relating to evidence” will be heard this Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Hawaii State Capitol room 016. As you may know, journalist and journalism groups in Hawaii have nearly unanimously supported establishing a journalism shield bill here. Thirty other states have such a shield law, which helps to protect journalist’s notes and confidential sources when they are subpoenaed in civil trials. In Hawaii, journalists have been subpoenaed and threatened with the possibility of large fines and jail time if they don’t comply with court orders to turn over the information to private attorneys who are seeking to either intimidate investigative reporters or defend their clients in civil matters. This is a very real problem for our local journalists and the legislation as it stands will help to protect them in such extreme cases. The bill, introduced by House Judiciary Co-chair Blake Oshiro, has already passed the House. Now it up to the Senate. Hope you can send your testimony into Sen. Brian Taniguchi at sentaniguchi@capitol.hawaii.gov and cc: testimony@capitol.hawaii.gov as well as attend and testify at the hearing on Thursday.

Interestingly, as written, the proposed change to evidentiary law seems to leave things pretty ambiguous for independent bloggers, but includes a clause for former newspeople like Zimmerman (who resolutely asserts that she is not a blogger) and Ian Lind.

The protections cover any “journalist or newscaster presently or previously employed by or otherwise professionally associated with any newspaper, magazine, news agency, press association, wire service, or radio or television transmission station or network.” Very specific requirements within the text of the bill, even though the summary description more broadly describes “persons participating in collection or dissemination of news or information of substantial public interest.”

I’d rather see the definition of a journalist in the bill be as inclusive as its summary, focusing on how a person conducts themselves and why the information is published rather than who signs (or signed) their paycheck.

And the omission of the Internet in the laundry list of covered media is also pretty ridiculous.

My submitted testimony will make note of these concerns. But it will be testimony in support of the bill. We should first ensure that journalists can do their jobs (in the “First Amendment” sense, not just the “day job” sense), then move onto arguing over who (else) qualifies as a journalist.

You can track the bill, and read its full text, on the Legislature’s web site.

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