July 30, 2008
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION RENEWS CALL FOR THE ADOPTION OF A FEDERAL SHIELD LAW
Expresses Disappointment in Senate Action Today, Urges the Adoption of Uniform Protection for Journalists Nationwide
With legislation that would afford legal protections to journalists blocked today in the United States Senate, New York State Bar Association President Bernice K. Leber (Arent Fox, LLP) expressed disappointment at today's actions and called for the adoption of a Federal Shield Law that would provide needed, uniform legal protections for journalists throughout the nation. She reaffirmed the Association's position that a federal statute, similar to the one used in New York, be implemented to ensure that the press has the ability to operate freely and independently and pursue information without fear of facing criminal sanctions.
"The freedom of the press is one of our most cherished and deeply valued rights," Leber said. "The absence of a uniform federal shield law places this important protection at risk and potentially compromises a fundamental hallmark of American democracy. That is why I am disappointed in the Senate vote today. We need to enact a federal shield law in order to preserve the ability of journalists to do their jobs without fear of reprisals from the government."
Currently, 49 states, including New York, have shield law protection by either statute or judicial decision. The lack of an all-encompassing federal statute undermines the effectiveness of these various state shield laws and leads to uncertain and potentially conflicting outcomes, depending upon where litigation is brought or where a grand jury or other investigative inquiry is pending.
The New Yorkshield law protects journalists from being held in contempt for refusing or failing to disclose any information, which includes source identities that may come into their possession, while gathering the news. New Yorkaffords absolute protection for confidential sources and information, and applies a balancing test if the information is not confidential.
"As the media capital of the world, New Yorkhas a strong and historic special interest in protecting an independent press," said Leber. Our state has demonstrated tremendous leadership by creating a shield law that has been highly effective for more than 30 years and would, therefore, make an ideal statute on which to base future federal legislation."
In April 2006, the Executive Committee of the New York State Bar Association passed a resolution calling on Congress to enact a federal shield law statute consistent with the provisions of the New Yorkstate shield law.
The 74,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, the Association's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.