Statebill will protect confidential sources

Published on Thu, Feb 16, 2006 by ara Nelson

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State bill will protect confidential sources

By Tara Nelson

News reporters will likely be granted more protection from being forced to disclose the identities of confidential sources, thanks to a bill that was passed by the Washington state House of Representatives earlier this week.

Washington state attorney general Rob McKenna, who proposed house bill 2452, said the law is necessary for the advancement toward a free society and a free press. “This bill would give potential whistleblowers greater confidence that they can disclose information of corruption or scandal without fear of being revealed,” McKenna said in a press release issued Tuesday. “We must continue to safeguard the people’s right to know what decisions government is making and why those in power are making them.”
The bill, approved by the house 87-11, will include broad provisions granting reporters and other members of the news media an absolute privilege to protect the identity of confidential sources; qualified privilege for reporter’s work products such as notes and other documents.

The identity of confidential sources may only to be disclosed if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has occurred, if a court finds the information is highly material and relevant to a civil case, or if the news or information is critical to maintenance of a party’s defense and that the party seeking it has exhausted reasonable measures to obtain the same information from different sources.

Greg Lane, communications director for the attorney general’s office, said the law is a huge advancement toward protecting the freedom of the press. Currently, it is only assumed that precedents set forth in prior cases will protect a news media person from disclosing confidential sources, he said. The danger in relying on that, however, is that those precedents can be changed.

“This would put the actual statutory language in the books, which is stronger than just having precedents,” he said.