OLYMPIA – A bipartisan group of state representatives will sponsor the House of Representatives’ version of Attorney General Rob McKenna’s request legislation to protect by law a reporter’s confidential sources.
House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and Deputy Republican Leader Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, will join Reps. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, in championing the measure through the House of Representatives.
“These leaders understand the important role of anonymous sources in tough stories,” McKenna said. “I look forward to working with them to protect a reporters’ right to cover sensitive stories without fear of legal battles and possible jail time. This is an important open-government issue.”
In Washington, courts have recognized a common law protection for reporters’ confidential sources. However, news organizations must spend time and money in court to win these cases. Editorial writers say a clear reporter shield statute would prevent unnecessary court battles.
“Open government is vitally important to the people of Washington,” Kessler said. “That’s why I supported the Attorney General’s changes to our public records laws and that’s why I’m supporting his efforts to protect confidential sources.”
“Reporters should not be used as pawns in political fights,” Armstrong said. “Nor should they replace detective work by law enforcement or prosecutors. A shield law protects reporters’ ability to responsibly cover controversial stories without finding themselves hauled into courts.”
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutory shield laws to protect news reporters from compelled disclosure and federal shield legislation is being considered in Congress.
“Some of the best investigative reporting throughout history has come as a result of confidential sources,” Clibborn said. “These sources put themselves at great risk should their identities be revealed. Without them society would likely never learn of wrongdoing in government and in large corporations.”
“The freedoms of the American press are an inspiration to news organizations worldwide,” Priest said. “Yet today, in Washington, reporters don’t have the same statutory protections as reporters in 31 other states and the District of Columbia. The time has come to bring our laws in line with the majority of the nation.”
The Attorney General’s proposed legislation provides an absolute privilege to protect those in the news business from compelled disclosure of confidential sources. It also provides a qualified privilege for a reporter’s work product.
The legislation protects television, radio, and newspaper reporters as well as any person in the “regular business of disseminating news or information to the public by any means.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Rep. Lynn Kessler: (360) 786-7904
Rep. Mike Armstrong: (360) 786-7832
Rep. Skip Priest: (360) 786-7830
Rep. Judy Clibborn: (360) 786-7926
AGO Media Contact: Janelle Guthrie, AG Media Relations Director, (360) 586-0725