The Austin Chronicle


We Can Has Shield, Too?

By Richard Whittaker, May 8, 2009, News

Barring a gubernatorial veto, Texas actually has a journalism shield law. House Bill 670 achieves the seemingly impossible: creating a qualified protection for journalists and their confidential sources that both news outlets and county attorneys could support. There was a brief scare when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst delayed debate, claiming that he wanted more time to review the bill, but it seems he was happy with what he found, and now it's on its way to Gov. Rick Perry. So far, so good for traditional media, but lawmakers are struggling when it comes to dealing with the Internet. The Senate passed Senate Bill 1629, amending the Texas Public Information Act so that the payment exemptions newspapers and broadcasters enjoy for open records requests apply to their websites, too. The legislation won't cover bloggers, who are excluded from HB 670 as well, so they're pinning their hopes on HB 4237. Authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg (who has regularly blogged at since 2005), it extends the privileged matter clause of the Texas Constitution to Internet reporters and citizen journalists. What does that mean? If bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters accurately report what was said in a court of law or a public meeting, they can't be sued for libel – a protection print and broadcast journalists already enjoy.

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