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Columbia Missourian

Attorney general candidates disagree on 'shield law'

By Chris Dunn
October 9, 2008 | 9:01 p.m. CDT

POPLAR BLUFF — The only major disagreement that emerged between Missouri's attorney general candidates in their second debate involved a proposal to protect journalists from having to disclose anonymous sources and unused information in court.

While GOP candidate Mike Gibbons supported a "shield law," Democratic attorney general candidate Chris Koster reinforced his opposition during their debate in Poplar Bluff on Thursday.

"After 220 years of our country, suddenly we have organizations coming forward, saying we cannot effectuate the freedom of the press without effectuating immunity from the courts," Koster said. "Why can't we? If any other industry sought immunity from the courts, the media would be the first one to cry foul."

On the other side, Gibbons said that while he supported a "shield law," he also cited areas in which he said there should be exceptions when a reporter could be required in court to disclose a source — including "where the public is at such extreme risk."

Shield laws, which exist in 35 states, protect journalists and news organizations from having to reveal anonymous sources or unpublished information. The laws vary from state to state.

Bills to establish a Missouri shield law have been filed in the state legislature for several years, but have made little headway. Koster, who has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the idea.

Both Koster and Gibbons declared support for the Missouri Sunshine Law, which gives the public access to government bodies' records of meetings, votes and other actions.

When asked what each candidate considered most important to the attorney general's office, Gibbons cited his proposed "Cyber Crimes Unit," efforts against methamphetamine and fair treatment of crime victims as priorities. He also said he would "raise the integrity of this office."

Koster cited prosecution of Medicaid fraud by both recipients and providers. He also said the attorney general's office needs to stand up to corporate fraud.

Both Koster and Gibbons were Republicans in the state Senate until Koster switched parties in 2007 while Gibbons was the top GOP leader.