Hawaii Shield Law Resuscitated

HONOLULU (CN) – Hawaii’s House Judiciary Committee endorsed a bill to protect journalists from having to disclose sources or unpublished information to anyone, including the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
     The state House on Monday sent HB 295 to the floor by a 13-0 vote.
     The protections would apply to any “journalist or newscaster presently or previously employed by or otherwise professionally associated with any newspaper or magazine or any digital version thereof operated by the same organization, news agency, press association, wire service, or radio or television transmission station or network.”
     The unanimous vote of the committee encouraged journalists’ and publishers’ hopes that the bill will resurrect the state’s original shield law.
     Signed into law in 2008, Hawaii’s shield law received a 2-year extension in 2011 but failed to win re-approval in 2013 due to disagreements on who could claim the privilege. That year, Hawaii’s attorney general and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s then-chairman Clayton Hee opposed the bill. Hee showed the famous 1948 photo of Harry Truman holding a copy of The Chicago Tribune bearing the incorrect headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” to justify limited protections for journalists, particularly to their nontraditional counterparts.
     Lawmakers tried to revive the law in 2014, but quarrels over excluding nontraditional journalists and reporters for free online news sites and free papers, such as the Hawaii Reporter and Honolulu Weekly, killed the bill. Under the original law, nontraditional journalists included bloggers and documentary filmmakers.
     The watered-down version of the shield law did not sit well with many reporters, publishers, professors and some lawmakers.
     The Student Press Law Center lauded Hawaii’s original shield law as one of America’s best. Of the 40 states with shield laws, Hawaii’s is considered one of the strongest because it also protects online bloggers.
     Hawaiian filmmaker Keoni Alvarez used the state’s 2008 shield law in a civil case in which he was subpoenaed for footage. Alvarez, who was a third party in the lawsuit, invoked reporter’s privilege and refused to give the plaintiff his unpublished footage.
     Friday last week, Attorney General David Louie again expressed reservation about protecting nontraditional journalists. Louie said that the proposed protections are “far too broad, untested, and well beyond any statutory journalists’ shield enacted in any state.” He urged the House Judiciary Committee to amend the bill and tie the provision to the protection of confidential sources.
     The committee, headed by Rep. Karl Rhoads, made several amendments to clarify that the journalist, and not the source, holds the privilege, a stark difference from the attorney general’s proposition.
     While HB 295 does not specifically exclude reporters or publishers of free media outfits, it makes no direct reference to nontraditional journalists such as bloggers and filmmakers. It focuses on the qualifications of recipients of the privilege, including their professional association and the nature of their work duties.

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