LOS ANGELES NEWS GROUP OPINION: California Shield Law made stronger by Lieu legislation: Opinion

October 08, 2013

By Los Angeles News Group editorial board

Good for state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, a perennial champion of press freedoms, whose strengthening of the California Shield Act was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Shield Act is the California law that protects journalists from having to reveal their sources of information or to reveal unpublished information. It also requires that a journalist who is subpoenaed in a civil or criminal proceeding be given at least five days’ notice that his or her appearance will be required. This is to give the news organization time to present arguments to the court in support of its Shield Law rights.

But the U.S. Justice Department proved this year that those protections are not enough. The FBI secretly seized phone records and emails from reporters at the Associated Press and Fox News, with no notice to those organizations that their records were being examined — and hence, no chance for the news organizations to argue that the information was protected or could be found in other ways by the FBI. We deplored the Justice Department’s abuse on press freedoms in a July editorial.

So Lieu’s legislation amends the California Shield Act to cover that sort of end-around. It extends the five-day notice requirement to a news organization whose records are being subpoenaed from a third party, like the phone company or an Internet service. There’s an exception for “circumstances that pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the criminal investigation or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.”

Again, the idea is to give the journalist time to cite Shield Act protections or to argue that the information could and should be obtained another way.