Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Florida's model law

Last modified 5/18/2007 - 3:21 pm
Originally created 052007

Florida's model law

Florida's law shielding journalists worked as intended, one good reason why the federal government needs a similar law.

Florida's law provides journalists with a qualified privilege against intrusions that seek to turn journalists into advocates.

For instance, four journalists recently were subpoenaed to testify in a Death Row inmate's challenge to the state's lethal injection practices. The journalists covered the December execution of Angel Diaz.

Attorneys wanted the reporters to disclose their notes.

One of the reporters being targeted was Ron Word, The Associated Press reporter in Jacksonville who has covered about 50 executions.

A court turned down that request. There were plenty of witnesses to the execution of Diaz, and a judge ruled that the plaintiff's attorneys had not exhausted their list of witnesses. In fact, the St. Petersburg Times has already published notes from its reporter from the Diaz execution on its Web site.

But since journalists are professional observers and dedicated to being objective, they are sought after by advocates. That is exactly why society has a vested interested in protecting the independence of journalists.

Hauling journalists into court as witnesses should be a last resort.

Unfortunately, there are no such reasonable protections on the national level.

A total of 49 states and the District of Columbia have either laws that protect journalists or case law that does the same, reports the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Federal bills proposing a qualified reporter's privilege have been submitted in Congress.

The bills put the onus on the government to prove that a reporter's testimony is essential, that all other sources have been exhausted and that the public interest in the reporter's testimony outweighs such issues as revealing a reporter's anonymous sources.

Under the proposed Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, a reporter could be forced to reveal an anonymous source if conditions are met:

  • Disclosure is needed to prevent imminent harm to national security or bodily harm.
  • Disclosure is needed to identify a person who has disclosed a trade secret in violation of state or federal law.
  • Disclosure is needed to reveal a person who has released health information in violation of federal law.
  • Disclosure is needed to identify a person who has released nonpublic personal information of a consumer in violation of federal law.

    While confidential sources have been abused by journalists, anonymous sources sometimes are the only way to obtain important exposes, such as conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal or steroid abuse in professional baseball.

    This qualified protection is in the tradition of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which provides protection to a free press in order to reveal abuses.

    The founders lived in an era of the most sensational press imaginable. They realized that, despite its shortcomings, the press is needed to provide a check against the tyrannical tendencies of government.

    Let the press do its job.


    Shielding reporters

    Under Florida law, a party issuing a subpoena must show:

  • The information is relevant to unresolved issues.
  • The information cannot be obtained from alternative sources.
  • A compelling interest exists for requiring disclosure of this information.

    Source: Associated Press

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