Journalistic shielding

July 18, 2008
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Both of Indiana’s senators are pushing for passage of a federal shield law. Sen. Dick Lugar, a Republican, talked this week about making that happen soon and as recently as last week Senate leadership noted this may come up yet in July. Legislation out there, known as the Free Flow of Information Act (S. 2035) would create a reporter’s privilege at the federal level, bringing that U.S. law into line with statutes in most states.

Attorneys general in about 42 states signed a letter supporting the proposal, though Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter wasn’t one of them. He opted instead to do his own letter to Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, urging the federal law’s passage, noting that his position is statutorily created and not constitutionally established and his authority doesn’t extend to what the federal legislation would encompass. Our AG notes that the proposed federal shield law “does not add to, or subtract from, the Indiana law.”

Hoosier State Press Association general counsel Stephen Key sees significant benefit for Indiana from the proposed federal shield law, though. The current state shield law can be found at Indiana Code 34-46-4; it protects news reporters from disclosing sources and giving them a means of safety in state courts. But Key notes that federal law doesn’t pony up that protection, and the 7th Circuit has gone as far as saying it won’t recognize state statutes that offer the journalistic shield.

Key says passing this legislation would give those within Indiana’s press “better piece of mind in promises of confidentiality to sources” that will hold up in court. All courts at federal and state levels. Timing remains a question, even though the Senate has vowed to move forward soon. President George W. Bush has apparently threatened to veto the legislation, but presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama have both pledged their support. We'll see what happens.
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