Return of the Shield Law?

A new shield law bill introduced by House majority leader Scott Saiki is working its way through the legislative process this session.

News Report
Will Caron

Hawaii journalists could once again be protected by a shield law should HB17 make it through the Legislature to Governor Ige’s desk. The bill was introduced by House majority leader Scott Saiki and passed first reading yesterday.

The bill seeks to codify news media privilege against the compelled disclosure of sources and unpublished information to a legislative, executive, or judicial officer or body, or to any other person who may compel testimony. Act 210, Session Laws of Hawaii 2008, temporarily established a limited version of this privilege but was allowed to sunset in 2013 after a vigorous anti-shield law campaign was waged by former state senator Clayton Hee, who chaired the powerful Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee.

Hee was concerned with online media which he believed to be unreliable in the accuracy of its reporting. Despite testimony from numerous experts in the fields of journalism and law urging that the sunset provision be struck from the law, and no evidence supporting Hee’s claim that journalists working for online publications are less accurate than those working in print, radio and television, he was determined to eliminate the protection which, ironically, actually encourages accurate reporting by keeping journalists from landing in jail over telling the truth.

There is currently no federal shield law and Congress doesn’t seem likely to enact one any time in the next four years. As of 2013, 30 states had a specific shield law for journalists, though the protections vary from law to law. Some protections apply to civil but not to criminal proceedings. Other laws protect journalists from revealing confidential sources, but not other information. Many other states, including Hawaii, have established court precedents which provide protection to journalists, usually based on constitutional arguments. As of 2011, only Wyoming lacked both legislation and judicial precedent to protect reporter’s privilege.

Click here for the bill’s status and to submit testimony.