Wisconsin would become the 39th state to enact a law protecting journalists and their confidential sources if a bill before the state Senate on Tuesday passes and is signed by the governor, reports the Wisconsin State Journal. The proposal creates a so-called “Shield Law” protecting journalists from having to testify or reveal their confidential sources. Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, called the measure a good government reform intended to protect the public’s right to learn of official misdoing.
One example of the need for such a law was a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on fraud and abuse within the state’s child care subsidy program that relied on information from a confidential source, he said. Under the bill, judges could order reporters to testify, produce information or reveal a source’s identity only when it is “highly relevant” to the case or critical to at least one party’s argument. Attorneys would have to show they couldn’t get the information any other way and there was an overriding public interest in disclosing it. It also prohibits forcing the confidential source to testify in order to discover the identity of that person.