Shield Law in Other Countries

The U.S. is not the only country in the world establishes legal protection for journalist’s news sources.

European countries are active in protecting reporter-source privilege. Countries like Austria, Norway, Belgium, France and U.K. have special laws and acts to protect journalist’s sources and states including Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Andorra and Germany provide this privilege in their constitutions (Article 19, 2013). In 2010, Law 2010-1 of January 4, 2010 (2010), a regulation providing protection for journalist sources was adopted by the French Parliament (Library of Congress, 2010). In the U.K., a reporter is offered a statutory privilege under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (1981). On the level of Council of Europe, Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1953) guarantees freedom of expression in member states, providing a reporter’s privilege. In Goodwin v United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights applied Article 10 to hold that Goodwin, a journalist who obtained confidential information of a company from a stolen draft, was entitled to refuse to disclose his source as the business interest of the company did not outweigh Goodwin’s interest of protecting the identity of source.

Countries other than those in Europe also realize the importance of protecting news sources. In 2011, the Australian Senate passed the Evidence Amendment Bill 2010 (2010) to protect journalists from being compelled to disclosure sources and further “the coverage of the shield law to bloggers, citizen journalists, and independent media organizations.” Section 68 of the Evidence Act 2006 (2006) serves as a shield law for journalists in New Zealand.

Compared with the condition in the U.S. that states adopt their own shield laws and there is no shield law on the federal level, countries recognizing reporter’s privilege, especially those in Europe, tend to extend the protection to a national scale but not apply different standards in different geographical areas. However, similar to qualified state shield laws in the U.S., shield laws in most of these countries do not provide an absolute reporter’s privilege, leaving a space for balancing the conflict between government interest and that of journalists. The Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom (1953) is a typical example. It says that the protected privilege is subject to restrictions that are:

prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests on

national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of

disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the

reputation or rights of other, for preventing the disclosure information received

in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Thus, the struggle for balancing the government interest of ensuring national security and journalist’s interest in protecting confidential sources is universal while to what extent protection of news sources is achieved depends on how courts in different countries interpret their laws.