Are lawmakers in Annapolis going to get to define who is and isn’t a journalist, what is or isn’t a news organization in Maryland?
It seems so, judging by what transpired at a House of Delegates Judiciary Committee hearing attended Wednesday by Baltimore Brew editor and publisher Fern Shen.
The hearing was on HB385, a bill aiming to expand the “reporter’s shield” privilege – the provision of state law that guarantees the right of journalists to refuse to testify about information or sources of information obtained during their news-gathering.
In her testimony, Shen said news websites like the online-only Brew are equal members of the news media community and deserve the same legal protection.
Possibly, said one member of the committee, who nevertheless found the bill “troubling.”
Introduced by Delegate Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), the measure expands the state’s shield protection beyond those “employed by the news media” to also include “an independent contractor or agent of the news media in any news gathering or disseminating capacity, including a self-employed journalist.”
Calling it “overbroad” and “loosey-goosey,” Del. Luiz R. S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) asked whether it wouldn’t extend the privilege to any self-declared journalist with a blog or Facebook fanbase.
Does the bill go too far. . .or simply acknowledge the reality of modern media, where expanded web capabilities, harsh industry economics and new thinking about who can commit journalism have blurred old distinctions?
Supporting the bill along with Shen was a representative from one solidly mainstream corner of the media universe, Washington Post general counsel James McLaughlin, a member of the board of directors of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association.
To read more about the legal issues in play and about Wednesday’s testimony, go HERE, to Shen’s post about it on The Brew’s in-house blog, Below the Fold.