(Note: For current information on this topic, see our legal guide section on Protecting Sources and Source Material.)
As of December 2007, thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have statutory shield laws. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee (citations to the various state statutes are listed below). A number of state courts have also recognized a privilege based on their state constitutions, common law, or the First Amendment.
The various state statutes range in scope, from broad protections that provide an absolute privilege, to more narrow qualified privileges. Most state shield laws provide a qualified privilege, protecting source information in judicial proceedings, unless the compelling party can establish that the information is (i) relevant to matter at hand; (ii) unavailable by other means; and (iii) that a compelling need exists for the information.
While the majority of states protect a confidential source’s identity, some states also protect a unpublished notes, outtakes, or work product. A small minority of states further protect a reporter’s personal observations. States also differ in who is covered by the privilege, and under what situations it applies. For example, many states limit coverage only to persons are professionally engaged in dissemination of information to the public, while other states include freelancers, authors, electronic publishers, or educators. Some states further require that, in order to qualify as a member of the news media, evidence or records must be kept documenting actual publication or broadcast, especially when radio or television media are concerned. For a detailed examination of state shield laws, see Journalists’ Privilege to Withhold Information in Judicial and Other Proceedings: State Shield Statutes (Congressional Research Service, March 2005).
The first state shield law was enacted in Maryland on April 2, 1896, in response to the imprisonment of a Baltimore Sun reporter for refusing to reveal a confidential source to a grand jury. Act of Apr. 2, 1896, ch. 249, 1896 Md. Laws 437 (codified at MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 9-112 (LexisNexis 2002)).
If you are interested in the specific statutory provisions for each state, they can be found in the following section.