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Journalist Shield Law (2003)

Subject: S.847/ Balboni et al. A.4860/ Sanders — AN ACT to amend the civil rights law, in relation to protecting book publishers under the shield law. Position: SUPPORT New York’s Shield Law codifies the privilege, arising under the First Amendment, that protects professional journalists from compulsory disclosure of confidential sources contacted or materials obtained in the course of gathering information for public dissemination. Under New York law a professional journalist is defined as one who is engaged in:

“. . . gathering, preparing, collecting, writing, editing, filming, taping or photographing of news intended for a newspaper, magazine, news agency, press association or wire service or other professional medium or agency which has as one of its regular functions the processing and researching of news intended for dissemination to the public. . . ” See Civil Rights Law, Art. 7, Section 79-h (a) (6).

This definition, however, omits explicit reference to a professional journalist who is engaged in preparing a work product for publication by a book publisher. The omission leaves journalists and their publishers vulnerable to contempt proceedings for failing to reveal sources or turn over notes that were used in the preparation of a book. The proposed amendment to the law would make explicit that journalists engaged in preparing a book manuscript, and the publishers of such manuscripts, are included in the statutory definition of professional journalist and are therefore protected under the Shield Law. The bill does not limit in any way the circumstances under which a professional journalist would be compelled to reveal sources or notes not obtained in confidence. The constitutional protections afforded a journalist’s work product are intended to further the full and free discussion of issues and ideas. This bill would appropriately further that objective. The NYCLU urges legislators to support this bill.

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