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Minnesota is ahead of the curve on press protections

  • Article by: Marshall H. Tanick
  • February 14, 2014 - 7:12 PM

The editorial endorsement of a federal law to shield journalists from being required to divulge confidential sources in federal proceedings, the Free Flow of Information Act, is commendable (“Congress, protect nation’s free press,” Feb. 12). But the editorial did not mention the formidable protections already available to journalists in Minnesota under the existing state law, also known as the Free Flow of Information Act.

In fact, the Minnesota law, dating back more than 30 years, provides greater and better safeguards for journalists than the federal act, which is stalled in the Senate. The state law covers a broader swath of people engaged in journalistic activities, compared with the more limited federal measure.

The federal legislation would cover only confidential sources. But the Minnesota statute protects against compulsory divulgence of the identities of confidential sources as well as unpublished materials and notes of journalists, whether or not they include confidential materials.

Further, the federal measure would place the burden on journalists to prove entitlement to nondisclosure by “clear and convincing evidence.” In contrast, Minnesota law requires the party seeking disclosure, usually government prosecutors, to meet that high standard to compel court-ordered divulgence.

The federal measure, co-authored by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is a compromise, as the editorial duly notes. As such, it is an imperfect way of protecting the work of journalists. But even if it is not enacted at the federal level, or further diluted during the ensuing legislative process, Minnesota journalists -- and the public they serve -- already have substantial safeguards in the gathering and reporting of news in this state.

Marshall H. Tanick is a Minneapolis employment law attorney.

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