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Conflicts with Shield Laws

by on February 27, 2014

As journalists there’re certain shield laws that are applied to our jobs, whether it’s in the field or the office the laws apply to writer’s work ethics. Journalists’ also have a duty to protect their sources on certain projects, especially if the source doesn’t want to be identified.

Some journalists have gone to jail because of this ethical dilemma as noted in chapter 4 of Online Journalism Ethics under Shield Laws. And more recently this happened to a Fox News reporter last April, when she refused to reveal a source for the courts of Colorado concerning how she got the name of the cinema shooter.

“The District of Columbia has a law protecting the identities of confidential sources, but the laws are inconsistent and do not apply to federal courts (Singer, pg. 105).”

So if a federal judge asks where a journalist got their information from for credibility, it’s up to the journalist to decide whether to break their promise to the source or not. There’s no easy answer for a situation like this and if the journalist doesn’t comply then they face jail time for “contempt of court.”

As for the Fox News reporter, she succeeded in not revealing her sources and avoided jail time towards the end of last year.

Since then In the U.S., 49 states and the District of Columbia recognizes journalists’ have privilege to certain pieces of information and can choose not to reveal sources. Given the circumstances of the court case.

Here’s a hypothetical situation: Your a reporter writing a crime story about a mob court case and have received information from one officer and one witness who refused to be identified in order to protect their families from the mob. Suddenly the court case goes federal and the judge asks you to reveal the sources to the court to analyze the creditability of the sources.

Now there’s a danger of your sources and possibly their families getting killed because you revealed who they are in court. And you’re not in one of the 49 states or the District of Columbia that recognizes your privileges as a reporter.

What would be your course of action in this hypothetical situation? Do you comply with the Shield Laws? Or is there another solution to this problem?

Here are some links to help with your answer:

http://www.spj.org/shieldlaw.asp

http://www.dmlp.org/blog/2013/state-shield-laws-play-tug-war-dream-federal-shield-law-resurfaces

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