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Report No. 93

II. State Laws (Shield Laws in U.S.A.)

6.3. Position under State Laws in U.S.A.-

However, the fact that the First Amendment does not confer an immunity, as such, on journalists from the disclosure of the source of a confidential information does not conclude the matter since, by legislation a number of States in the U.S.A., have provided that confidential relationships between a journalist and his source should be protected. This has been achieved by the passage of "shield laws". These laws provide the newsman with immunity from forced disclosure of the identity of his source. Details of the legislation vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.1 The first State in the U.S.A. to enact such a law was Maryland (1896), followed by New Jersey (1938), Alabama and California (1935)2 and other States. In 1970, such a law was passed by New York3, while Pennsylvania had already enacted it in 1937.4 The most well-known is the provision in California, first enacted in 1935 and appearing as section 1070 of the California Evidence Code.5

As of 1980, 26 States in U.S.A. had shield laws, the latest to pass such a law being Tennessee (1973).6

The subject has been dealt with at length in two studies.7-8

1. Para. 6.4, infra.

2. Section 1970, California Evidence Code.

3. Section 79h, New York Civil Rights Law.

4. Pennsylvania Statutes, Title 28, section 330.

5. Section 1070, California Evidence Code.

6. Sobel Media Controversies, (Facts on File, 1981), pp. 153-173; O'Brien Public's Right to Know, (1980) App. C, pp. 183-185 (State Shield Laws).

7. Mauries Van Gerpen Privileged Communications and the Press, (1979), (Westport) Connecticut Green Wood Press.

8. Vincent Blasi The Newsmen's Privilege: An Empirical Study, (1971) Mich. Law Rev 229.

Disclosure of Sources of Information by Mass Media Back

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