Monday, January 30, 2006

Shield Law I: The Elements

What are the elements of our Shield Law?
First, what does the law protect? The shield law protects agasint compelled revelations. Compelled disclosures are usually done via a subpoena upon a newsmen. Subpoena always has a compelling feature because non-compliance or defiance would warrant sanctions, including jail-time, as what had happened lately to American news reporter Judy Miller.
The law says a newsman CANNOT BE COMPELLED TO REVEAL the source of any news report or information....
Therefore, if a newsman is merely requested by a lawyer in a case to testify about an information obtained in confidence, and the newsman voluntarily testifies in court, the shield law does not come into play.
Who are the persons covered by teh shield law? As the law says, they are the PUBLISHER, EDITOR, COLUMNIST and DULY ACCREDITED REPORTER.
This element is a bit controversial because the the persons covered are specific. Who is a "duly accredited reporter"? Accredited by whom? The local press club? the national press club? What about freelance reporters, are they covered too?
What is the subject which cannot be forcibly revealed? The law says what cannot be subject of compelled revelation is the SOURCE OF OF A NEWS REPORT OR INFORMATION.
The law also specifically requires that the news report MUST HAVE APPEARED, meaning, it must have been published.
It would seem that the shield law does not protect against forced revelations of unpublished materials, notes of reporters, their journals.
What kind of publication does the shield law protect? The law protects NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES and PERIODICALs. Moreover, these publications must be of GENERAL CIRCULATION.
This law was was enacted in the 1950's so it did not cover broadcast like t.v. and radio news, much less news postings in the internet.
So can radio and television newsmen be compelled to testify and reveal the source of their information?
Finally, it should be emphasized that we do not have an absolute shield law.
The law says that if the revelation is demanded by the SECURITY OF THE STATE, then the courts, ath House or committee of the Congress can compell such revelation.
As we can see, the law has its deficiencies or inadequacies, and needs to be updated because so many things have happened since its enactment in 1956.
Frankly, it is surprising that we have not heard of the press pushing for the amendment of our shield law.

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