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{The ability to protect your sources and newsgathering materials is often critical to your being able to gather information and inform the public. In the course of assembling information for an article, post, podcast, or other work, you may obtain information that, for a number of reasons, you do not wish to make available to the public.}
The California’s shield law, has effectively protected a 22-year-old San Francisco State University photojournalism student who was at the scene of a neighborhood murder.
He was asked to surrender his photos to the police and refused, the 22-year-old at the scene refused also to talk with law enforcement.
A warrant was issued by the court system to obtain the photographer’s DNA and search his apartment as reported by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The young man who also did not want his name published because of fear of retaliation in the neighborhood in which he lived, went to court and stood behind the freedom of the press as a working journalist. The California shield law was upheld by the Superior Court judge Tomar Mason. July 20 2009

(The California shield law is contained in the California Constitution, Cal. Const. art. I, § 2(b). An essentially identical shield law is also contained in California’s Evidence Code, Cal. Evidence Code § 1070.
In relevant part, California’s shield law states:
A publisher, editor, reporter, or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication . . . or any person who has been so connected or employed, shall not be adjudged in contempt [by a body with legal authority] for refusing to disclose the source of any information procured . . . or for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving or processing of information for communication to the public. . . .
As used in this subdivision, ‘unpublished information’ includes information not disseminated to the public by the person from whom disclosure is sought, whether or not related information has been disseminated and includes, but is not limited to, all notes, outtakes, photographs, tapes or other data of whatever sort not itself disseminated to the public through a medium of communication, whether or not published information based upon or related to such material has been disseminated.
Who is Covered?
California’s shield law protects a person “connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication.” In an important case, O’Grady v. Superior Court, 139 Cal. App.4th 1423 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006), a California appellate court held that the shield law applies to persons gathering news for dissemination to the public, regardless of whether the publication medium is print or online. In that case, Jason O’Grady operated an “online news magazine” about Apple Computers. He published confidential information he received about a new Apple product. Apple wished to sue the person who divulged the confidential information to O’Grady and subpoenaed him for information about the identity of his confidential source. The court applied the shield law, and O’Grady did not have to identify his source.
The O’Grady case does not mean that all online publishers will benefit from the protection of the California shield law. The court indicated that the shield law protects newsgatherers, like O’Grady, who engage in “open and deliberate publication on a news-oriented Web site of news gathered by that site’s operators.” On the other hand, the court said the shield law might not protect “the deposit of information, opinion, or fabrication by a casual visitor to an open forum such as a newsgroup, chatroom, bulletin board service, or discussion group.” The court expressly declined to decide whether the shield law applies to bloggers because of the “rapidly evolving and currently amorphous meaning” of the word “blog.” Thus, the exact reach of the California shield law is unclear, but it arguably protects online publishers who gather and disseminate news to the public. The exact definition of “news” is uncertain, and future cases will no doubt determine its contours more precisely.


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