Journalist Shield Laws and Bloggers

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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On 6 December 2002, Josh Marshall's talkingpoi...Image via Wikipedia

Should so-called “shield laws,” intended to provide protection for journalists from being forced to reveal their confidential sources, apply to bloggers? The current answer seems to be “no,” although the question must be asked on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis.

In the United States, there is no federal shield law, for journalists or bloggers. There are, however, many shield laws at the state level. (For more on this, see A Guide to Journalist Shield Laws from Poynter Online, an excellent compendium of such laws.) Some states have already recognized the important of blogging to modern journalism: New York is currently debating whether to pass a bill to explicitly extend protection to bloggers.

In Australia, such laws are currently being debated for adoption at the federal level, according to Peter Timmons, a consultant working on freedom of information and privacy protection issues. It’s unclear to me whether the proposed Australian law would cover bloggers, however.

Cearta.ie, an Irish legal blog, has several good articles discussing “journalists’ source privilege” from an international perspective. I recommend you read through it to get a better idea of the global status of the issues, especially in Europe.

From a “free press” perspective, the privilege is incredibly valuable. On other hand, like any evidentiary privilege rule (spousal testimony, for example) it can be very frustrating for law enforcement in certain situations. Overall, I think it would be a net good, if written sensibly, and it would also be a net good to extend the privilege to bloggers who act like journalists – but again, with some specific language defining what that means.