Hawaii First Amendment attorney Jeff Portnoy testifies on journalism shield legislation in 2008
Hawaii First Amendment attorney Jeff Portnoy testifies on journalism shield legislation in 2008 (photo by Mel Ah Ching)

Two measures that would make permanent the news media “shield law” enacted last year have been introduced in the state House of Representatives.

The law, now due to expire June 30, protects news reporters from disclosing sources of information used in the gathering of  stories.

State Rep. Gene Ward, R-17th (Kalama Valley, Queen’s Gate, Hawaii Kai) urged the House Judiciary Committee to hold a public hearing on the shield law bill he has introduced.

“The ‘shield’ law for journalists is a necessary part of democracy and helps bring investigated stories to the public. This protection must be continued,” said Ward.

A second measure with the same purpose, introduced by House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro, D-33rd (Aiea, Halawa Valley, Halawa Heights, Aiea Heights) has also been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, introduced a similar measure in the Senate. SB 876 would repeal the sunset of journalism shield law.

Forty-nine states have enacted versions of shield law protections for journalists. Wyoming is the only exception. A federal shield law has been proposed but not adopted.

Since passage of the Hawaii measure, it was successfully invoked once on Kauai to protect sources used in the production of an independent film about Native Hawaii burial practices.

The law protects journalists in most situations from being compelled by courts to reveal sources. It provides limited protection in felony criminal prosecutions and civil defamation suits and may not be invoked when a journalist witnesses or commits a crime.

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Hawaii Reporter is an award-winning, independent Hawaii-based news and opinion journal founded in 2001 and launched in February 2002. The journal's staff have won a number of top awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including the top investigative news reporting awards, business reporting awards, government reporting awards, and online news reporting awards. Hawaii Reporter has a weekly television news show, News Behind the News, which airs on Mondays at 1:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.