Federal shield law is held up again

A federal shield law to protect journalists remains an elusive goal today, despite a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. The committee took testimony on the proposed law but didn’t vote because several members left early and there wasn’t a quorum.

That’s unfortunate, because the law is needed.

The majority of states, including Colorado, have shield laws that allow journalists to protect confidential sources in state court cases and other circumstances. But there is no similar law at the federal level, and lawyers in federal cases can be sent to jail if they refuse to identify confidential sources.

The bill in question would allow journalists to protect their sources in most instances related to the federal government. That’s often a critical condition for a federal employee or someone high in political circles who has information the public needs to know, but the person wants to be protected from possible retaliation for supplying the information.

However, the bill, SB 448, also recognizes that in certain circumstances, the government may have a legitimate reason for demanding to know a source. For example, it does not protect information or sources associated with terrorism or foreign powers.

“It takes into account the needs of both sides,” Kevin Goldberg, legal counsel for the American Society of News Editors, told Editor & Publisher magazine. “The needs of reporters to protect sources unless the information is absolutely needed in court and the needs of government to have access to information and even sources in the right circumstances.”

On other information related to national security, a judge must weigh the security interest against the public’s interest in learning the information.

It’s unfortunate that the Judiciary Committee didn’t act on the bill Thursday. We hope it does so soon, so that a federal shield law quickly becomes law.


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