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MDDC supports MD HB 8, protecting journalists from revealing sources in other states

The Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association supports House Bill 8, which will be heard before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, February 3, 2105 at 1 p.m.  This bill would create a narrow, well defined -- but potentially very important -- exception to the state's Uniform Act to Secure the Attendance of Witnesses from Without the State in Criminal Proceedings. In essence, HB 8 provides that a Maryland court will not issue a summons directing a Maryland resident or worker who is a member of the news media (as that term is defined in the state's existing shield law) to appear to testify in another state when there is a "substantial likelihood" that the reporter will be forced to disclose a confidential source or else be held in contempt.

This very scenario played out in a high-profile case in New York, where the state's highest court ultimately declined to issue a summons compelling a Fox News reporter, Jana Winter, to travel to Colorado and reveal sources of her reporting in the Aurora mass-shooting case. Fox News coverage of that story can be found here and New York Times' coverage of the court ruling here.  The New York Court of Appeals reasoned that enforcement of the subpoena would be contrary to New York public policy as manifested in the state's shield law.  HB 8 can be seen as codifying this result in Maryland -- a result that is natural and appropriate, given the similarities between the New York and Maryland shield laws and the states' similar traditions of protecting free speech. Like New York, Maryland has a preeminent reputation in this area, and like New York its shield law creates an absolute privilege for confidential sources. HB 8 does not purport to dictate to any other state how it should approach reporters' privilege issues; it simply says that Maryland courts will not broker a process that will result in its own journalists being forced to divulge information that is at the heart of Maryland's protection of a free press. In this way, its approach is comparable to the libel tourism statute passed by this General Assembly a few terms ago.  This bill is needed to provide clarity on this issue; it is possible that journalists would prevail in courts, as happened in New York, but the outcome is not assured and the unknowns produce a chilling effect on the media’s ability to report on the news of the day.

In concert with Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, Democrat from District 41 in Baltimore, MDDC has coordinated a panel of witness to testify in support of this bill.  Witnesses include Jana Winter, now with The Intercept.com and Jim McLaughlin, Deputy General Counsel of the Washington Post.  


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