Shield Laws Essay, Research Paper
The United States was founded on many fundamental principals. Among these principles is the right of every citizen to have the freedom of speech. Shield laws allow for this basic right to be put into effect. A journalist s right to protect his sources is integral to the foundation of the Constitution, of which our country is founded upon. Without shield laws, the core of our principles is brought into question.
To better understand shield laws, one must first know what it is. A publisher, editor, reporter or other person connected with or employed by a newspaper, magazine, or other publication, press association, wire service, or any person who has been so connected or employed, cannot be judged in contempt by a judicial, legislative, administrative body or any other body having the power to issue subpoenas. For refusing to disclose, in any proceeding, the source of any information procured while connected or employed by a publication or for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving or processing of information for communication to the public, that person cannot be held in contempt. This includes not only the personnel associated with printed publications, but it also includes those reporters associated with televised programs, as well as reporters broadcasting over the radio.
While so far only about thirty states have passed shield laws, many states are now reviewing the law and posing it under consideration. It is imperative that these states begin to realize the scope of the law. It should not only be considered a law, but it is in fact a fundamental right under the first amendment of the Constitution. The first amendment guarantees citizens the right to free speech, religion, assembly, petition, and most pertinent to this case, freedom of the press.
The freedom of the press extends not only to those who report the news, but also to the masses that receive it. Without shield laws sources of reporters would withhold their information for fear of persecution from the courts. Without such sources the people of this nation would not receive the information that they would otherwise receive. Also, if these sources had information that would have debilitating effects on the government, the government could use their power to instill fear into the sources. If our nation was reduced to such standards, we would not be much better than the totalitarian dictatorships we have spent so many decades fighting. Our nation would turn it s back on the efforts of our founding fathers and the Framers of the Constitution.
One such case, which has tested the boundaries of shield laws, has taken place in the state of Florida. David Kidwell, of the Miami Herald, was sentenced to a 70- day sentence for refusing to testify about an interview with an accused child killer, Joe Zile. According to prosecutors, Kidwell had important evidence that he obtained while interviewing the accused Joe Zile. Prosecutors said the information Joe Zile gave while on the witness stand was different from that which he gave to Kidwell in the interview. A judge sentenced Kidwell because he was a witness to an event relevant to the case, but Robert Rivas, a lawyer representing the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argued this point. Rivas said that any information gathered would fall under an event relevant to the case . Therefore, the clause not the shield law should be revised.
This case is a perfect example of how the government can use force to obtain information it needs. By sentencing Kidwell to a seventy-day jail sentence, it shows how the government can instill fear into not only the reporter s sources but also the reporters themselves. This is an unconstitutional act. Freedom of the press is a right guaranteed to the people of the United States. Persecution for exercising that right goes against everything the Constitution stands for.
Shield laws are in place not only to protect reporters and their sources, but also to protect the citizens of this country. In this modern era of technology and communication, information and knowledge is power. If the government attempts to withhold the information from getting to the people, it, therefore, is taking away the power from the people. Reporters and journalists are the only resource most people in today s hectic society have for information. If those reporters are silenced, then the people are left in the dark about our nation s matters. Through shield laws the citizens have something to protect themselves. Shield laws allow for the power to remain in the hands of the people instead of allowing the government complete control, as is the case in dictatorships.
Reporters serve a great purpose in our nation and our society. We as the people of this nation, who are indeed endowed with rights that are unyielding, should and must protect our civil rights. The access to information supplied to us by reporters in the field of news, communication, or otherwise. By protecting their rights and their sources, we, in essence, protect our rights. We must not tolerate forceful actions on the part of the government. Fear should not be a weapon used in order to deprive reporters and their sources of their intrinsic rights. Fear is a weapon for dictators and totalitarian rulers. Our nation has evolved beyond that, and should therefore, not allow it to occur on our nation s soil.