Friday, January 25, 2008

Utah Adopts Reporters' Shield Rule

[Media] Put this post in the category of completely self-serving news.

Well, not exactly. A shield rule that allows Utah reporters to protect their sources' identity will help news gathering for all of us--here at City Weekly and every other print, broadcast and online operation. And that, in turn, will help everyone who reads a paper, watches TV news, reads a blog. Most everyone.

Sometimes Utah's institutions really do the right thing by the public. The following e-mail came yesterday, signed by two Salt Lake City media lawyers who have been advocating for the shield rule--Jeff Hunt and Michael O'Brien.

"Dear Media Coalition Members:

Good news! The Utah Supreme Court yesterday adopted a reporter's shield rule for Utah. Acting with remarkable speed, the Court adopted Rule 509 of the Utah Rules of Evidence just one day after the public comment period on the Rule closed. According to an email I received last night from the Court's legal counsel, Rick Schwermer, and confirmed by a phone call this morning, the Court met yesterday and adopted the rule, effective immediately. That means news reporters in Utah are covered by the new privilege as of now. Schwermer said the Court would issue a written order later formalizing its adoption of the Rule.

... The Rule creates a near-absolute privilege for confidential sources. The only exception: when disclosure is necessary to "prevent substantial injury or death." ... This language is even more protective of confidential sources than existing case law and would compel disclosure of confidential sources only in the most extreme circumstances.

The rule also protects unpublished non-confidential newsgathering material, e.g., outtakes, notes, photographs, etc., subject to the balancing test that the Utah federal and state courts have been using for the past twenty years.

Through this process, Mike and I have become intimately familiar with the shield laws of the other 47 states and the District of Columbia. In our judgment, the Utah rule provides some of the strongest protections to news reporters of any shield law in the nation.

The Supreme Court's adoption of the rule culminates a nearly three-year-long campaign to enact a reporter's shield law in Utah. As you know, there have been many ups and downs along the way. The end result is very gratifying. Our thanks go to all of you who submitted public comments of the Rule, helped us educate the Advisory Committee and Supreme Court, consulted with us on strategy, and took the battle to the public via op-ed pieces, radio and television interviews, and editorials. This could not have happened without your support."

Oh. That's journalism god Hunter S. Thompson in the photo, c. 1971.

(Holly Mullen)

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