Journalist shield law expiring


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

A state law protecting the identity of journalists’ sources will expire next year, prompting media organizations to prepare for a lobbying effort in Honolulu.

The state Legislature passed the reporter shield law in 2008.

It prevents journalists from being forced to disclose their sources or turn over their notes to law enforcement with some exemptions.

Jeff Portnoy, a Honolulu attorney representing Hawaii media organizations on the issue, said the law provides “freedom that journalists need to do their jobs.”

The law sunsets on June 30 and will have to be renewed by the Legislature to remain in effect.

So far, 11 media organizations in the state, including the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today, have contributed to the lobbying effort, said Stirling Morita, Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter president, in an email.

Morita said the law serves the public’s right to know what’s going on in government or business.

“The most important stories … often takes people who are not willing to risk their reputation, their jobs, their own security to provide the information needed for those stories,” he said.

“We got to protect them or no one will come forward with information for that particular story,” Morita added.

The law includes exemptions for when the person claiming the privilege has witnessed a crime or if that person has or is about to commit a crime.

Last year, the state Attorney General’s Office requested adding exceptions for when a party in a criminal case has a “constitutional right to the information,” and restricting the protection of unpublished information to when there was an “express expectation of confidentiality.”

An Attorney General’s Office spokesman declined to comment on the law before being taken up by legislators.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting reporter privilege, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement to the House Judiciary Committee last February.

Portnoy said he is hopeful the sunset provision will be eliminated this time around without too much “tinkering” with the provisions.

“We already have been through the Judiciary and they have essentially advised the Legislature that they are not asking for any changes,” he said.

Whether the same support for the law remains in the new Legislature, remains to be seen, Portnoy said.

Several Big Island legislators contacted by the Tribune-Herald said they were supportive of the intent of the law but would need to look at the details before giving a firm position.

“Basically, I understand the necessity of having confidential sources,” said Rep. Richard Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano.

“It depends on what the exemptions are … but I’d have to take a look at what the bill currently does and what’s the proposed terms of how long should we extend it or whether we should make it permanent.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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