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Conn. legislature approves journalist shield law

By The Associated Press
05.04.06

Editor's note: Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed H.B. 5212 into law on June 6, 2006.

HARTFORD, Conn. — A bill to protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources is headed to Gov. M. Jodi Rell's desk after receiving final legislative approval from the House of Representatives yesterday.

State Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, said the bill "will underscore that a free and vigorous press, and an independent press, is important to a healthy democracy."

The bill unanimously passed the Senate early yesterday, then passed the House 136-11 later in the day.

A spokesman for Rell said she would sign the bill, which would then take effect Oct. 1.

Among the opponents was state Rep. Robert Farr, R-West Hartford, who said the bill would make reporters a privileged class and apparently would protect even people who reveal confidential information on blogs, Internet sites that include postings on various topics, or in newsletters.

The bill covers people who work for a variety of newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and electronic media. The Senate had considered excluding blogs and limiting protections to people with journalism degrees, but later removed both provisions.

Similar laws are already in place in at least 31 states and Washington, D.C.

"I think it's a great development for journalists working across the state," said WTNH-TV news director Kirk Varner, who testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information.

Varner said: "A lot of issues came up in the consideration of the law and I think it was good because the impact of how journalists treat confidential sources was reviewed at length, and ultimately a bill's been drafted that we think addresses the need, not only here in Connecticut, but hopefully on the federal level as well."

But not everyone in the news media favored the bill. Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, said it would make reporters a privileged class not bound by the same laws as the public.

"It does not recognize that the First Amendment rights belong to everybody, that anybody can be a journalist at any time, at any moment," he said.

He said the bill would have little practical effect because it would allow judges to compel disclosure of confidential sources if there was an overriding public interest. He said the legislature could have done something more useful, such as guaranteeing people the right to take notes in courtrooms.

Reporters from The Hartford Courant and the Farmington Post said that a judge prohibited them from taking notes while covering a sentencing this week. The Judicial Branch is reviewing the incident.

"There are outrages happening against the public's right to know that they do nothing about," Powell said.

A state shield law was proposed last year after several high-profile cases across the nation in which reporters served or were threatened with jail time for refusing to reveal their sources. But the bill never made it to the full legislature for a vote.

The bill was championed this year by Jim Taricani, a Connecticut native and a Rhode Island TV reporter who spent four months in home confinement last year after refusing to disclose a source.


Related

R.I. reporter to be released early from home confinement

Federal judge's order also will free WJAR-TV's Jim Taricani from probation or any further court supervision stemming from criminal- contempt case. 04.07.05

Mass. lawmakers mull putting reporter's privilege on books
By Courtney Holliday Measure would allow journalists to maintain source confidentiality except in limited circumstances. 05.31.07

Shield laws


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