JEFFERSON CITY — A year in which several reporters were ordered to testify about their sources and notes has prompted bipartisan support for a reporters shield law.
Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, has already filed a bill that would allow reporters to avoid testifying about their confidential sources and unpublished notes unless the information can only be learned through the reporter and is vital to the public interest. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said he plans to file a shield law proposal next week.
Graham, whose district includes the Missouri School of Journalism, said he hoped his bill would gain support from the publicity generated last year in Washington when several journalists were forced to testify before a federal grand jury in an investigation about the leaking of CIA agent’s name.
“We need to make sure a free flow of information to the public exists as we move forward into the future so we don’t have a chilling effect,” he said.
Jean Maneke, a Kansas City attorney representing the Missouri Press Association, said in a normal year, about two reporters — from media other than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Kansas City Star and Springfield News-Leader — are subpoenaed. Through November last year, there were more than five reporters subpoenaed.
Most of those reporters, she said, were talking to criminal defendants and other parties involved in legal proceedings.
Crowell said he often disagrees with what he sees in newspapers but believes journalists play an important role in getting information to the public. Crowell, citing his conservative record and Graham’s liberal one, said it was interesting that they are both working on the same issue.
“It says a lot that Sen. Graham and myself are both interested in this issue as we’re kind of the bookends in the Senate,” Crowell said. “But in between the bookends, there is a lot of room to fit people between us to get the votes.”
House Speaker Rod Jetton has also written a letter to the press association in support of a proposed shield law.
“Who in his right mind, would go to a journalist with information that might put his career, his family or his life in jeopardy if he wasn’t assured that he could do so anonymously?” Jetton, R-Marble Hill, wrote.
Nationwide, 31 other states and the District of Columbia have some form of media shield law. Congress has also debated a proposal to create a shield law for the federal courts.
Both senators’ versions would use a wide definition of who qualifies as a journalist, with Graham’s covering anyone who shares information through print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic and electronic means.