The Austin Chronicle

Okay, We're a Bit Biased on This One …

By Lee Nichols, December 12, 2006, 4:46pm, Newsdesk

… but we would really like to see some sort of shield law for journalists that can protect us from being jailed when we refuse prosecutors' and judges' demands to reveal our confidential sources. And maybe the upcoming legislative session is the one where we'll see that happen in Texas, as we have both some Democrats and one particularly powerful Republican on our side, Attorney General Greg Abbott. Today Rep. Aaron Peña filed House Bill 382 to create such a shield for journalists; while we haven't yet read the specifics of the bill (and the devil is always in the details), we like what we read in his press release:

Press release:

Austin - Texas State Representative Aaron Peña has filed legislation today that will grant journalists some protection against being forced to testify about their confidential sources. House Bill 382, called the Free Flow of Information Act, would allow judges and prosecutors to require journalists to reveal privileged information only in certain instances.

"This bill is about the public's right to the free flow of information," said Representative Peña. "Information regarding corruption from whistleblowers should be encouraged. This bill strikes a delicate balance that allows information to be gathered while at the same time allowing prosecutors to seek justice."

Recently there have been high profile cases involving journalists being held in contempt of court and in some cases being jailed for refusing to reveal confidential information. The proliferation of illegal steroids in Major League Baseball may not have been exposed if it were not for the work and investigative journalism of two San Francisco area reporters. Those same reporters now face the possibility of jail time if they don't reveal the identities of their confidential sources. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott joined twenty three other states in filing an amicus brief with the San Francisco federal appeals court on behalf of the reporters.

“A free and open press forms the foundation of a free and open democracy,” said Attorney General Abbott. “Our nation functions best when its citizens can see their government operating in the full light of day.”

Representative Peña applauded Attorney General Abbott's support on the issue.

"Attorney General Abbott is right on, we don't need the government putting up impediments to access to information. We have pre-filed this bill so we can begin working with all the stakeholders to help craft legislation that will create a balance between a free press, the public's right to know and the pursuit of justice."

The Texas House Committee on the Judiciary is scheduled to hear testimony on an interim charge from the previous session regarding the issue tomorrow, Wednesday, December 13th in Austin at the Capitol Extension, E2.028. The committee can also be seen on the web at

Last session Representative Pena filed HB 188, a similar bill that would have created a privilege for journalists.

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