!xl version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8">SPJ Hawaii: May 2023 Newsletter
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Hawaii lawmakers pass bill that would protect journalists' confidential news sources
Whether Hawaii journalists get back a law to protect confidential news sources now rests in the hands of Gov. Josh Green.|
Last week, the Hawaii Legislature passed House Bill 1502, which would re-establish the so-called Shield Law.
The measure was pretty much a return to the 2008 law worked out by media law attorney Jeff Portnoy, then-Attorney General Mark Bennett and journalism professor Gerald Kato. It was a foresighted law that granted the source protection to those people who practiced journalism whether in traditional media or on the Internet.
HB1502 finds its roots in the 2008 law, which blocked the compelled disclosure of a confidential source of a journalist or newscaster. It also covered online journalists who published news of substantial public interest.
"We believe it achieved that delicate balance to protect the free flow of information in a democratic society while balancing the legitimate need for information in pursuit of justice," said retired University of Hawaii journalism professor Gerald Kato in written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"Such protections are essential to the preservation of First Amendment freedoms embedded in our federal and state constitutions."
Today, Hawaii and Wyoming are the only states without a Shield Law or other legal protections for confidential sources. In 2013, the Hawaii Legislature did not extend the expiration of the 2008 law after some battles over making the law permanent.
The original Hawaii law was foresighted, envisioning that there were people doing the work of news reporters but not working for newspapers or radio or TV stations. Bloggers, such as Ian Lind, provide a service using the tools of a reporter but do not work for a traditional news outlet. (The law did not cover people who pass on information through social media.)
The law was in effect for three years and did not cause problems, and was tested in court once, in the case of a filmmaker working on documentary about Native Hawaiian burial sites, an issue clearly of public interest and concern. A committee of the state Supreme Court also had recommended that the law be made permanent.
The bill would grant the source- and note-protection in all civil cases except for libel cases in which the reporter is a named party. In criminal cases, there are some exceptions:
Stirling Morita, president of Hawaii Chapter SPJ, said, "The passage of this bill is sweet after the battles to make the 2008 law permanent. It validates the hard work of Jeff Portnoy, Mark Bennett and Gerry Kato in crafting this one-of-a-kind legislation.
"It would help to ensure the free flow of information that will benefit not only journalists, but the public as well.".