Damn, the state Senate Judiciary and Labor (JDL) Committee is really dragging out the discussion on HB622, a new bill dealing with Hawaii’s Reporter Shield Law. First the bill sat for a few weeks in the committee for a few weeks while journalists around the state sweated over the possibility that it would die there, which in turn would allow the shield law itself to expire at the end of June. Then Democratic Committee Chairman Clayton Hee finally scheduled a hearing for Mar. 28, which attracted tons of testimony and further led to a follow-up April 2 hearing (10:30am, Conference Room 016).
Right now, we reporters enjoy one of the strongest shield laws in the nation. Reporters at papers, magazines, online news sites and blogs in Hawaii can breathe easier knowing their unpublished notes and resources are safe from prosecutors and subpoenas. But the problem is that the law that shields us expires in June. Now this bill is a mixed bag for us–as currently written and amended, it both makes the law permanent and removes certain protections for reporters and bloggers.
Now there’s been all sorts of back-and-forth in the media world about who’s actually a “reporter” and how much shielding we need. In the myriad testimony that flooded the Senate JDL Committee on Mar. 28, University of Hawaii journalism Professor Gerald Kato cut through all the controversy and explained everything in just four clear sentences:
“I believe that good journalism is not only done within the four walls of a newsroom,” Kato said in his Mar. 28 testimony letter. “Technology has broadened our capacity to gather and disseminate information of public concern. Each of us has the ability to engage in what the pamphleteers and publishers did when the First Amendment was written into our Constitution two centuries ago. For those reasons, I believe it is imperative that we maintain protections for all forms of journalism that advances the goal of an informed citizenry.”
Of course, the people submitting all that supportive testimony are pretty much all journalists and bloggers (I noticed a few activists thrown in as well) so it’s pretty easy for the good senators to ignore them. After all, journalists are just another interest group in the state, looking for a handout or special exemption from this or that law, right?
Photo of New York Times newsroom, 1942: Marjory Collins/Wikimedia Commons