Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Media urge passage of shield law

February 19, 2002


— Media organizations urged a House committee Monday to endorse a proposed shield law for reporters who use confidential sources, but some legislators were skeptical.

The bill before the Federal and State Affairs Committee would prevent reporters from being forced to disclose the identity of their sources in court, before a grand jury or in other legal proceedings.

But the privilege would not be absolute. Judges could force disclosure in a closed session first if they found there were no other way to get the information, the information were relevant to a legal proceeding and the public had a compelling interest in its disclosure.

Supporters said news organizations generally agree to keep sources' identities confidential when those sources fear for their jobs or their safety and when a story cannot be told otherwise.

"I would urge that it be viewed as an instrument for increasing the flow of news and information," said Mike Kautsch, a Kansas University law professor. He is a former dean of the KU journalism school and board member of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government.

But several committee members questioned the need for the bill and suggested it would grant news organizations more power without requiring more responsibility in gathering information.

"Maybe we ought to talk about absolute responsibility on the part of news organizations," said Rep. Bill Mason, R-El Dorado.

Committee Chairman Doug Mays, R-Topeka, appointed a subcommittee to study the legislation. Subcommittee members are Reps. Tony Powell, R-Wichita; Dan Williams, R-Olathe; and Rick Rehorn, D-Kansas City.

"I give it a 50-50 chance, which actually is better than many bills," Mays said of the measure's chances.

Thirty-one states have shield laws, including Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Harriet Lange, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, said television stations fend off dozens of subpoenas a year.

Rick Thames, editor of The Wichita Eagle, said news organizations do not use confidential sources lightly.

The proposed shield law is HB 2798.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.