Expands the exemption provided to professional journalists and newscasters from contempt to include employment or association with a web log; defines web log as a website or webpage that contains an online journal containing news, comments and offers hyperlinks provided by the writer.
TITLE OF BILL: An act to amend the civil rights law, in relation to exemptions provided to professional journalists and newscasters from contempt
PURPOSE: Expands the exemption provided to professional journalists and newscasters from contempt to include employment or association with a web log (blog).
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS: Section One of the bill amends paragraph 6 of subdivision (a) of section 79-h of the civil rights to include "web log" as a medium that can be used by a "professional journalist."
Section Two of the bill amends subdivision (a) of section 79-h of the civil rights law by adding a new paragraph 9 to define "web log" as a website or webpage that contains an online journal containing news, comments and offers hyperlinks provided by the professional journalist or newscaster.
Section Three amends subdivision (b) of section 79-h of the civil rights law to include "web log" as a medium that a professional journalist and newscasters may use to receive protection for confidential news and receive exemption from contempt.
EXISTING LAW: New bill.
JUSTIFICATION: Currently, professional journalists involved with newspapers, magazines, news agencies, press associations, wire services, radio or television are protected from being charged with contempt of court for failing to disclose any news obtained in confidence or failing to provide the identity of a confidential source.
New York has a proud tradition of having one of the strongest reporter's shield laws in the country. Yet, in 2011, New York law does not provide protections to journalist bloggers - one of the fastest growing mediums for obtaining news. This glaring omission must not be allowed to continue.
A grand jury subpoena issued by the Bronx District Attorney was sent to the blog Room 8 in an attempt to identify people blogging anonymously on the website. The subpoena threatened the bloggers not to disclose the existence of the subpoena - or face possible jail time. The subpoena was eventually withdrawn.
If legislation is not enacted, there will be more cases of journalist bloggers facing contempt charges and jail time. This will have a chilling effect on free speech and a blogger's ability to aggressively report the news. It is time New York's shield law reflected the reality of 2011 and acknowledge that blogs do exist.
LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: 2008: S.8746 (Duane), Died in Rules 2009: S.4642 (Duane), Died in Rules; A.6078 (Rosenthal), Died in Goverment Operations 2010: S.4662 (Duane), Died on 3rd Reading; A.6078 (Rosenthal), Died in Government Operations
FISCAL IMPLICATIONS: None.
LOCAL FISCAL IMPLICATIONS: None.
EFFECTIVE DATE: This act shall take effect immediately.
STATE OF NEW YORK ________________________________________________________________________ 1232 2011-2012 Regular Sessions IN SENATE January 6, 2011 ___________Introduced by Sen. DUANE -- read twice and ordered printed, and when printed to be committed to the Committee on Codes AN ACT to amend the civil rights law, in relation to exemptions provided to professional journalists and newscasters from contempt THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, REPRESENTED IN SENATE AND ASSEM- BLY, DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS: Section 1. Paragraph 6 of subdivision (a) of section 79-h of the civil rights law, as amended by chapter 468 of the laws of 1981, is amended to read as follows: (6) "Professional journalist" shall mean one who, for gain or liveli- hood, is engaged in gathering, preparing, collecting, writing, editing, filming, taping or photographing of news intended for a newspaper, maga- zine, news agency, press association
[or], wire service or WEB LOG OR other professional medium or agency which has as one of its regular functions the processing and researching of news intended for dissem- ination to the public; such person shall be someone performing said function either as a regular employee or as one otherwise professionally affiliated for gain or livelihood with such medium of communication. S 2. Subdivision (a) of section 79-h of the civil rights law is amended by adding a new paragraph 9 to read as follows: (9) "WEB LOG" SHALL MEAN A WEBSITE OR WEBPAGE THAT CONTAINS AN ONLINE JOURNAL CONTAINING NEWS, COMMENTS AND OFFERS HYPERLINKS PROVIDED BY THE PROFESSIONAL JOURNALIST OR NEWSCASTER. S 3. Subdivision (b) of section 79-h of the civil rights law, as amended by chapter 33 of the laws of 1990, is amended to read as follows: (b) Exemption of professional journalists and newscasters from contempt: Absolute protection for confidential news. Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or specific law to the contrary, no profes- sional journalist or newscaster presently or having previously been employed or otherwise associated with any newspaper, magazine, newsEXPLANATION--Matter in ITALICS (underscored) is new; matter in brackets [ ] is old law to be omitted. LBD01065-01-1 S. 1232 2
agency, press association, wire service, WEB LOG, radio or television transmission station or network or other professional medium of communi- cating news or information to the public shall be adjudged in contempt by any court in connection with any civil or criminal proceeding, or by the legislature or other body having contempt powers, nor shall a grand jury seek to have a journalist or newscaster held in contempt by any court, legislature or other body having contempt powers for refusing or failing to disclose any news obtained or received in confidence or the identity of the source of any such news coming into such person's possession in the course of gathering or obtaining news for publication or to be published in a newspaper, magazine, WEB LOG or for broadcast by a radio or television transmission station or network or for public dissemination by any other professional medium or agency which has as one of its main functions the dissemination of news to the public, by which such person is professionally employed or otherwise associated in a news gathering capacity notwithstanding that the material or identity of a source of such material or related material gathered by a person described above performing a function described above is or is not high- ly relevant to a particular inquiry of government and notwithstanding that the information was not solicited by the journalist or newscaster prior to disclosure to such person. S 4. This act shall take effect immediately.