With the stroke of a pen last month, Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law provisions that will help maintain a free, fair and vigorous press in Connecticut. An Act Concerning Freedom of the Press establishes broad and stringent protections for members of the media and their sources.
Confidential sources play a fundamental role in newsgathering and have helped shape some of the biggest stories of our time. The promise of confidentiality can be essential to protecting sources from reprisals, such as the loss of a job.
In Connecticut, that promise has been largely an article of faith between a journalist and his or her source.
As a consequence of the governor's July 27 signing ceremony in New Haven, Connecticut now joins the ranks of a majority of states in the country with "shield laws."
Connecticut's version provides stringent protections for confidential and non-confidential sources. But it responsibly balances those protections against the right of a person accused in a criminal or civil proceeding to a fair trial.
Under Connecticut's new law, a journalist could still be compelled to release the name of a source. But whoever seeks that information - a prosecutor or a defense lawyer, for example - must meet several standards.
There must be "clear and convincing evidence" that a reporter's notes or the identity of a source are necessary to a court case. The information must be unavailable from any other source. There must also be an overriding public interest in the release of the information.
State Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, deserves credit for sponsoring this legislation and the General Assembly for adopting it. Lawmakers and Mrs. Rell are to be commended for recognizing the importance of a free and vigorous press.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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