Rep. Skelton to Introduce Reporter Privilege Bill

A bill to allow news reporters to protect their sources will probably be introduced during the first few weeks of the Oregon Legislature.

Representative Keith Skelton (D-Eugene), an associate professor of business law and legal council to the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association (ONPA), says he will introduce the bill.

Carl Webb, associate professor of journalism and manager of the ONPA, said he expects several other legislators to sign the bill.

The question of a news reporter’s right to protect his sources arose last summer when Emerald Managing Editor Annette Buchanan was fined $300 for refusing to reveal the names of students she interviewed for an Emerald story on campus marijuana use.

Her sentence is in the process of being appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Webb said the bill would be modeled after a statute in the Northwestern University Law Reviews. It reads:

It is hereby declared to be the public policy of the state that no person engaged in the work of gathering or disseminating news shall be required to disclose before any proceeding or by any authority the source of information procured by him in the course of such work unless disclosure be essential to prevent injustice or to protect the public interest.

“In granting or denying testimonial privilege under this act, the court or other authority shall have due regard to the nature of the proceeding, the merits of the claim or defense, the adequacy of remedy otherwise available, the relevancy of the source, and the possibility of establishing by other means that which the source is offered as tending to prove.

“An order compelling disclosure shall be appealable, and subject to stay.”

This is known as qualified privilege, calling upon the state to prove its need for the information and its inability to obtain it from other sources.

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