Unprovoked attack

Amendments adopted by the state Senate Wednesday eviscerate Hawaii’s shield law, the 5-year-old statute that provides protection for news organizations’ confidential sources and other whistle-blowers.

As media attorney Jeff Portnoy was quoted in an Associated Press story:

“My clients would be better off with no bill. I’d rather go to court and argue all the cases than have this.”

Portnoy said if the bill goes to the Abercrombie in its current form, he would suggest to his clients they ask the governor to veto it.

Among other things, the amendments strip protection from online reporting sites, bloggers and magazines and newspapers that have been in operation for less than a year.

The amendments take a decidedly backward view of a shield, basically dismissing all new media as not worthy of protection.

The existing shield law already has exceptions – the story cited that journalists can be compelled to comply with subpoenas in certain defamation and felony cases.

Sen. Clayton Hee, who offered the amendments, suggested they make the bill more “balanced.” For some unknown reason, he cited the infamous Chicago Tribune 1948 headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” as proof that news outlets make errors.

Well, duh, nobody ever suggested media don’t make errors. Is he suggesting that some confidential source was the basis for that headline and that Truman suffered grievous damage that somebody should have been whipped for?

We’d suggest the newspaper ended up looking stupid and was hurt a lot more than old Give ‘Em Hell Harry. He went on to serve four more years as president.

We’d urge the Legislature to stop this assault on media and make the current law permanent. There have been no egregious claims of privilege thus far and the amendments seem to be attacking some straw man that there is no evidence exists.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.