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Shield law aids public knowledge
March 28, 2011 - Jim Smith
The West Virginia legislature has adopted and the acting governor has signed a law aimed at protecting journalists from having to disclose unnamed sources in most court and administrative proceedings.
The state of West Virginia previously had a "shield law," but it was far too vague and convoluted to make it effective in protecting journalists from the demands of government officials wanting to know how the journalists got information they passed on to the public.
The bottom line is with a strong shield law, the public gets information that may be vital to it and its understanding of events of the day or government-related activities. Without a strong shield law, the free flow of information is hampered, if not eliminated. As written and signed into law, the measure is intended to shield reporters from being required to name confidential sources in civil and criminal trials, before grand juries and in administrative proceedings. To its credit it also covers documents that could identify a source.
Logically, the new law exempt testimony that would prevent imminent death, serious bodily injury or unjust imprisonment.
The new law also protects part-time journalists and student journalists.
It will be interesting to see how effective the law is in practice. Unfortunately, there always seems to be a broad difference between the intent and spirit of a law and how it actually is followed.
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