What The Reporter Shield Law Would Mean For Journalists

Politics

Each year, journalists all across South Dakota head to Pierre to follow the bills affecting you.  

Only now, it’s the journalism industry that’s up for discussion with lawmakers. 

The House Judiciary Committee has given the thumbs up to House Bill 1074, which would grant an extra protection for journalists. 

Many states have a reporter shield law, but South Dakota is not one of them. 

What this bill would do is legally protect journalists from revealing privileged sources and information.

But people working in the industry aren’t the only ones who should be interested in this bill. 

KELOLAND News broadcasts live from this studio several times a day, bringing you the top stories of the day. 

But we wouldn’t be able to do it without news tips from the public.

So, what does that have to do with House Bill 1074?

“We always tell those sources, ‘We’ll protect your identity.’ Now, a reporter shield law would make it official and more than just a promise we’ve been making over the years,” KELOLAND Media Group News Director Beth Jensen said.

Jon Arneson is a longtime media law attorney.

He says a state Supreme Court opinion from years ago already grants some protections to journalists. 

But this bill would put something in the law books. 

“Obviously, most reporters, as you know, would prefer not to use confidential sources, but it’s just part of who we are in society. People have to protect themselves; they have to protect their jobs; they have to protect their families,” Attorney Jon Arneson said. 

While he’d like to see a reporter shield law that adds another layer of protection for journalists, he’s in favor of this bill. 

“This is of course another step, a positive step, in terms of journalists’ rights so to speak,” Arneson said. 

“It’s really important to have that trust between a reporter and a source and that gives the community the best journalism possible,” Jensen said.

The bill now heads to the House. 

Now, not everyone in journalism is in favor of it.

While he did note his opinion on the bill is not widely accepted in the journalism industry, USD Journalist in Residence Chuck Baldwin doesn’t support it. 

This bill does define what a journalist is and he says that could lead to other problems down the road. 

He’s also not in favor of bloggers not being included in this bill. 

Here’s the full statement he sent KELOLAND News. 

“Once you define a profession and grant it privileges, as this bill does, it’s not a great step to license or restrict members of that profession. Just note the licensing, certification and restrictions other professionals have.

True, they’re not mentioned in the First Amendment. But by seeking statutory relief, we’re abandoning the argument that the First Amendment protects journalists.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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