Journalist's Guide

The Maryland Shield Law The Maryland Shield Law, the nation’s oldest such protection for journalists, states anyone employed by the news media in any newsgathering or disseminating capacity cannot be forced to disclose the source of news or information obtained in the course of their work. This privilege may be asserted whether or not the source has been promised confidentiality. The law protects journalists from waiving its protections, such as by previously reporting or sharing the name of the source or the name of one source but not others. However, Maryland’s Court of Appeals has ruled the Shield Law does not apply to a reporter (or other person otherwise covered) actually witnessing an event or hearing a party make a statement about an issue relevant to a proceeding, if the journalist reports what they saw or heard. In that case, the individual can be compelled to testify because they are also a witness. Also, when reporters are being questioned about their reporting, particularly by someone else’s attorney, they should stop the conversation until they have had the chance to consult their own attorney, lest they end up waiving the privilege. The law’s reach is broad, covering those employed by newspapers, magazines, journals, press associations, news agencies, wire services, radio and television and any other printed, photographic, mechanical or electronic means of reporting news, and an independent contractor acting within the scope of a contract, or certain students who cover news. The Shield Law provides some, but more limited protection for news or information such as notes, video or audio outtakes and unpublished photographs or photographic negatives. A journalist may be compelled to produce these items if the party seeking them proves by clear and convincing evidence: 1) the news or information is relevant to a significant legal issue before a body that has the power to issue a subpoena; 2) the news or information could not, with due diligence, be obtained by any alternative means; and 3) there is an overriding public interest in disclosure. The more limited protection afforded to unpublished information and items may be waived if the journalist discloses unpublished information outside the performance of professional responsibilities, e.g., in social conversation. The privilege applies in any state or local judicial, legislative or administrative forum in Maryland, but does not protect a journalist subpoenaed to testify before a federal court in Maryland. In federal court, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution may protect the journalist, although there is no federal Shield Law. Questions often arise on the nature and extent of protection relating to online publications. Although the Shield Law covers newsgathering regardless of the particular medium used to deliver news, the language of the statute does not currently seem to protect self-employed or amateur bloggers. The scope of persons protected under the Shield Law may ultimately be decided by the courts.

The Maryland Shield Law (“News media privilege”) can be found in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, Section 9-112.


Made with FlippingBook - Online catalogs