House passes shield law

Of the Emerald

SALEM (Special)—The House Monday passed an “unqualified” reporters’ shield law which guarantees journalists the right to refuse to divulge their sources of information.

But the passage followed a strong move to send the bill back to committee to add some qualifications about who the measure protects and under what circumstances.

The bill, SB 206, passed the Senate several weeks ago and now goes to Gov. Tom McCall. He is expected to sign the bill as he called it, “a priority piece of legislation.”

Rep. Robert Ingalls (R-Corvallis), who carried the bill on the House floor, said many reporters felt they did not need a shield law before last June’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court which stated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press does not protect reporters from being compelled to reveal sources.

Since then, Ingalls pointed out, many reporters and press-organizations have begun pushing for an unqualified shield “because sources just dry up” under the threat of being exposed.

“Passage of this measure is necessary for protection of the public’s right to know,” Ingalls, a newspaper editor, said.

Other legislators indicated they disagreed with Ingalls by voting in favor of the motion to send the bill back to committee.

“I make this motion with a good deal of regret because I sat on the committee that considered the bill,” Rep. George Cole (D-Seaside) said. “But, I am not satisfied with the end product because it shields practically everyone that is involved with the dissemination of information,” he added.

Cole also pointed out that the bill makes no provision for compelling a reporter to reveal sources in cases with “an overriding public interest.”

He said the bill “goes far beyond what is necessary for newsmen to protect their sources.”

Rep. Norma Paulus (R-Salem) supported Cole’s motion and appealed “to both the conservatives and very liberal elements of this assembly.”

Paulus, an attorney, said she would rather not have any shield law because “passing the measure will give way to the growing opinion that freedom is a privilege, and I abhor that.”

But she said that if the Legislature passed a shield law it should include “some very minimal qualifications.”

Paulus urged that the bill be amended to include provisions giving any defendant the right to compel newspersons to reveal sources or unpublished information to prove his or her innocence.

She argued that the real basis for any shield law was not protecting the public’s right to know, “since I have seen no evidence of a need for this bill in Oregon,” but that “the U.S. government has no business using the press as an investigative arm.”

Rep. Keith Skelton (D-Portland), an attorney, said he has “been trying to get a shield law passed in Oregon for many years.” The measure has failed during previous sessions, he said, because of divisions on the issue among “members of the press.”

But, he pointed out that since the Supreme Court ruling last June, 35 reporters across the country have been jailed or fined for refusing to reveal their sources.

“Reporters are being told what to say and what not to say by judges of this country,” Skelton said.

The motion to re-refer the bill failed, 22-38, and the bill was approved 49-21.

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