Minnesota Senate takes up shield law

Monday, March 30, 1998

The Minnesota Senate is scheduled today to revisit a two-year-old effort to expand the state's media shield law to include unpublished notes and photographs and unaired videotapes.


Shield laws are designed to protect journalists from being forced to disclose confidential information or sources in legal proceedings.


In February, the Senate unanimously approved the legislation, sending it to the House. With a 123 to 6 vote, the House on Thursday passed its own version of the bill.


Now the Senate must decide whether to agree with the House's version, which only includes changes in the wording, before the bill can go to Gov. Arne Carlson. The governor has not yet taken a position on the bill.


Generally, the courts have interpreted the state's 20-year-old shield law as protection for reporters who have been subpoenaed to reveal confidential sources. Senate Bill 1480 (http://www.leg.state.mn.us) extends that protection to journalists' unpublished information as well.


Rep. Matt Entenza, author of the House's version of the legislation, said that a court ruling two years ago eroded journalists' protection.


“We've been in danger since 1996 when the state Supreme Court said that reporters' notes and broadcasters' tapes could be subpoenaed,” he said.


Entenza said that “many news organizations are getting a lot of subpoenas. I fear that good quality investigative journalism is going to be squelched.”


In 1996, the state Supreme Court ruled that sources are protected but notes and tapes are not, according to Entenza. “That opened the door to this wave of subpoenas,” he said.


Entenza, who is also a prosecutor, said: “I believe in the First Amendment strongly and the ability of the democracy to work is dependent on journalists being able to gather information without fear of their notes being looked over.”


Under the bill, journalists would be required to submit information if:


• Probable cause exists to believe specific information is relevant to a specific violation greater than a misdemeanor.


• The information cannot be obtained elsewhere.


• A compelling and overriding interest exists to prevent injustice.


Related story:


  • Media groups seek protection for unpublished information 2.3.98