AGs call for federal shield law

By Chris Rizo | Jun 24, 2008

Terry Goddard (D)

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Legal Newsline)-A group of state attorneys general have outlined their support for the passage of a federal shield law for journalists.

The Free Flow of Information Act, already approved by House and awaiting a vote in the Senate, would bring federal law in line with state laws in 49 states that protect reporters' confidential sources in most cases.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., 41 state AGs said they support the legislation, which cleared the House 398-21 in October.

Every state but Wyoming has a shield law, allowing reporters to protect their sources.

"By affording some degree of protection against the compelled disclosure of a reporter's confidential sources, these state laws advance a public policy favoring the free flow of information to the public," the AGs wrote.

The letter says a reporter's privilege to protect confidential sources "rests on a determination that an informed citizenry and the preservation of news information sources are vitally important to a free society."

The legislation is supported by the Newspaper Association of America, a trade group. For its part, the White House has threatened to veto the legislation, arguing it would encourage leaks of classified information.

The attorneys general letter, sent last week, says by exposing confidential sources in federal courts "undercuts the benefit to the public that the states have sought to bestow through their shield laws."

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said such important historical events as the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, revelations of the Enron Corp. accounting scandal and abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq all relied on confidential sources.

"A federal shield law will help reporters do their jobs, but most importantly, it will help ensure that the public is well-informed," the Democrat said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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