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Senators vote to restrict journalists’ shield law

April 4, 2013
By ANITA HOFSCHNEIDER , The Associated Press

HONOLULU - A Hawaii Senate committee has voted to restrict the state's shield law to limit journalists' abilities to protect confidential sources and to remove protections for online news media.

Sen. Clayton Hee said Wednesday that the amendments help clarify the law, which expires in June. Hee says he considered advice from the state Judiciary, the attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union in crafting the amended bill.

But news media advocates were visibly upset by the hearing results.

"It is an outrage," said Jeff Portnoy, an attorney for the Hawaii Shield Law Coalition, which represents 16 media organizations including the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and The Associated Press. "After all the work we did five years ago, this is a complete gutting."

Hee amended the bill to cut out protections for nontraditional journalists such as bloggers, an amendment proposed by the state attorney general.

The bill's new definitions also remove protections for online media, including local investigative reporting sites such as Honolulu Civil Beat and the Hawaii Reporter.

Critics say the changes take Hawaii back to the 20th century.

The definitions also cut protections for magazines and newspapers that have in publication for less than one year.

Hawaii's existing shield law protects reporters and nontraditional journalists from revealing confidential sources to satisfy subpoenas, with exceptions. One exception is if sources and notes are needed in felony or defamation cases.

The House has already agreed to make reporters' information vulnerable to subpoenas in civil cases, potential felonies and cases involving unlawful injuries to people or animals.

The Senate version accepts the House changes in addition to removing additional protections.

Hee justified the changes by saying that the 1972 Supreme Court case Branzburg v. Hayes shows that there is no constitutional claim to a shield law.

Hee also said that news media make errors, citing the Chicago Tribune's 1948 headline that wrongly stated "Dewey Defeats Truman."

Portnoy said the Branzburg case didn't dispute a need for news media protections but served as the impetus for state shield laws.

Portnoy said the new bill is so bad that if the bill in its current form were sent to the governor, he would ask his clients for permission to ask Gov. Neil Abercrombie to veto the measure.

"My clients would be better off with no bill," Portnoy said. "I'd rather go to court and argue all the cases than have this."

Sens. Sam Slom and Les Ihara voted with reservations for the bill, voicing opposition to the amendments. Slom said the committee didn't have a chance to look at the amendments before the vote.

Despite disagreement with news media organizations, Hee said the amendments adopt a balanced approach. "This bill does provide some semblance of protection," Hee said.



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