What is the California Shield Law?

Let’s get straight to the point on this post because we have a lot of ground to cover. So what is the California Shield law and who does it protect?

The Shield law gives certain legal protections (more on these later) to news providers (more on this later as well!) by allowing news providers to keep their unnamed sources confidential and keep confidential any unpublished information obtained during the news gathering process.

The law is set forth in article 2 section 2 of the California Constitution. This is important because it means there can be no statutory exceptions.

Who the shield protects

It protects a "publisher, editor, reporter, or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, or by a press association or wire service" and a "radio or television news reporter or other person connected with or employed by a radio or television."

OK. So it’s obvious that the Shield protects Old Media and perhaps established New Media Outfits like Huffington Post and TechDirt. But what about the little guys and gals? What about freelancers? What about BLOGGERS who aren’t affiliated with an established media outlet?

I’ll give you the answer in a second . . . But first, let’s consider whether bloggers should be given such protection at all?

I know, such talk is considered "blasphemous" in some circles (I know who you are) but really, do bloggers deserve the shield’s protections?

On the one hand I understand that freedom of speech/press is one of our most fundamental rights and that it should be applied to foster–not prevent speech whenever and wherever possible

On the other hand, think about all of the moonlit bloggers who are not accountable whatsoever (short of a defamation lawsuit) for what they write or say. As an internet defamation lawyer, I see it everyday: bloggers who publish the most patently false, defamatory, and disgusting statements about my clients.

The reason news media outlets are given protection are because they are accountable to the public for what they write. Think about it, if a media outlet is viewed as untrustworthy, they’ll lose market share and eventually go out of business, unless they change their ways.

But a blogger has no such accountability. Blogging is virtually costless and he or she can spread as much rumor, speculation, inuuendo, and in some cases, outright lies, as he or wishes to do so.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to muzzle bloggers. But I do believe the Shield law should be limited.

Alas, however, what I think does not matter in this case because California courts have said their peace.

Bloggers are protected under California law. And that’s that.

What the shield protects

The Shield law protects news people from being held in contempt of court for not revealing a source or producing information unpublished information obtained during newsgathering. It does not protect the reporter from other sanctions, e.g. discovery sanctions when reporter/journalist/organization is a party to a lawsuit.

The Exception

There is a common law (this means case law if you’re not a lawyer) exception where not disclosing the information would violate a criminal defendant’s 6th amendment right to a fair trial.

Do you think all bloggers deserve the same protections as media outlets? I’d like to know what you think. Please leave a comment down below.

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