OLYMPIA – Consistent with his support for a federal reporter shield law, Attorney General Rob McKenna plans to request a state reporter shield measure in the 2006 legislative session.
“I believe that the reporter's privilege is important to maintaining an open and accountable government and society,'' McKenna said. “In their work to uncover wrong-doing and to cover tough stories, reporters must often rely on the responsible use of confidential sources. Those sources risk losing their jobs or putting their families at risk if their identity is revealed.”
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng has weighed in to support the measure as well.
“A free press is vital to a free society,” Maleng said. “Reporters must be able to protect their sources in sensitive stories or risk only reporting on issues that are safe and noncontroversial. We rely on reporters as watchdogs for government and business and we must support their efforts to get to the truth.”
Washington has no statutory shield law, but its courts have ruled in favor of qualified privilege based both on the First Amendment and on common law.
“While, to some extent, common law will protect Washington journalists, our courts have not yet formally addressed the application and scope of our privilege,” McKenna said. “My decision to ask the Legislature to formally recognize a reporters’ privilege is consistent with my belief that the Legislature should be the policy-setting body as set forth in our constitution.”
McKenna’s staff is presenting the bill to the Washington State Bar Association’s legislative committee today in Seattle. The bill will be designated Attorney General request legislation and discussions are underway with several lawmakers to determine a sponsor.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted statutory shield laws to protect the press from compelled disclosure and federal shield legislation is being considered in Congress. Earlier this year, McKenna joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in an advertisement expressing his support for a federal shield law
On May 27, 2005, Attorney General Rob McKenna joined attorneys general across the country in an amicus curiae—or friend-of-the-court—brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a qualified reporter’s privilege to refuse to disclose confidential news sources and urging the Supreme Court to review the Judith Miller case.
Contact: Janelle Guthrie, APR
Director of Media Relations
Washington State Attorney General's Office
1125 Washington Street SE
PO Box 40100
Olympia, WA 98504-0100
Phone: (360) 586-0725
Cell: (360) 584-3046