Few professional groups in our society are less popular than journalists, so it’s a rare occasion when legislators – obsessed as they are with reelection – take actions specifically designed to help the press.
The Wisconsin Legislature showed some of that political bravery this month when it passed the state’s first reporter’s shield law (although some members still seem a little sheepish about it). The new statute, signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle on May 20, gives “news persons” protection from certain subpoenas seeking their testimony, work products or confidential information, including the identities of their unnamed sources.
Journalists have been fighting for these statutory protections since 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to recognize a First Amendment reporter’s privilege in Branzburg v. Hayes. Wisconsin is now the 39th state to have responded by adopting concrete statutory protections for journalists.
As anchorman Ron Burgundy might say, this is kind of a big deal. But so far the response has been muted: no significant news coverage, no pubic outcry, no dancing in the streets.