Olympia – News reporters would be legally protected from being compelled to disclose the identity of confidential sources under legislation approved today by the Washington State House of Representatives.
“A free society requires a free press with access to information, including information from confidential sources,” explained Attorney General Rob McKenna, who proposed House Bill 2452, which was approved 87-11. “This bill would give potential whistleblowers greater confidence that they can disclose information of corruption or scandal without fear of being revealed.”
The legislation is a continuation of McKenna’s effort as Attorney General to increase public access to government information. Last year, McKenna proposed a new law that strengthened Washington’s Public Disclosure Act.
“I’m pleased by the strong bipartisan support for the bill and particularly want to thank Representatives Lynn Kessler and Mike Armstrong for their help in moving the legislation forward,” said McKenna. “We must continue to safeguard the people’s right to know what decisions government is making and why those in power are making them.”
House Bill 2452 would:
- Provide an absolute privilege to protect those in the news business from compelled disclosure of the identity of confidential sources.
- Provide a qualified privilege for a reporter’s work product (notes, outtakes, etc.) such that disclosure may only be compelled in the following circumstances:
- There are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has occurred or that there is a prima facie cause of action in a civil case; and
- If the court finds the news or information is highly material and relevant; the news or information is critical or necessary to the maintenance of a party's claim, defense, or proof of an issue material thereto; the party seeking such news or information has used reasonable efforts to obtain it from alternative sources; and there is a compelling public interest in the disclosure.
- Protect not just the news gatherer but third-parties who are in business with the news gatherer and who could reveal the confidential source, such as a cellular phone provider with records of calls to the source; and
- Apply broadly to protect not just television, radio and newspaper reporters but any person who earns a “substantial portion” of his or her livelihood in the “regular business of disseminating news or information to the public by any means.”
Greg Lane, AG Communications Director, (360) 586-0725 or (360) 480-1463