Freedom of the Press

October 11, 2006

By: David K. Jaffe

A new law went into effect on October 1, 2006, which provides protections for reporters and the news media. An Act Concerning Freedom of the Press[1], sponsored by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, was passed on June 6, 2006. The new law would prohibit the government, with certain enumerated exceptions, from issuing subpoenas compelling members of the Connecticut news media to testify about, produce or disclose information from a confidential source or information that can identify a confidential source.

The Act defines "Information" to include: "any oral, written or pictorial material, whether or not recorded, including any notes, outtakes, photographs, video or sound tapes, film or other data of whatever sort in any medium." The "New Media" includes: "Any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book publisher, news agency, wire service, radio or television station or network, cable or satellite or other transmission system or carrier, or channel or programming service for such station, network, system or carrier, or audio or audiovisual production company that disseminates information to the public, whether by print, broadcast, photographic, mechanical, electronic or any other means or medium."

Among the exceptions are that: [A] court may compel disclosure of such information or the identity of the source of such information only if the court finds, after notice to and an opportunity to be heard by the news media, that the party seeking such information or the identity of the source of such information has established by clear and convincing evidence:

1) That (A) in a criminal investigation or prosecution, based on information obtained from other sources than the news media, there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has occurred, or (B) in a civil action or proceeding, based on information obtained from other sources than the news media, there are reasonable grounds to sustain a cause of action; and

(2) That (A) the information or the identity of the source of such information is critical or necessary to the investigation or prosecution of a crime or to a defense thereto, or to the maintenance of a party's claim, defense or proof of an issue material thereto, (B) the information or the identity of the source of such information is not obtainable from any alternative source, and (C) there is an overriding public interest in the disclosure."[2]

The Act also makes clear that nothing contained in the new legislation "shall be construed to deny or infringe the rights of an accused in a criminal prosecution guaranteed under the sixth amendment to the Constitution of the United States and article twenty-ninth of the amendments to the Constitution of the state of Connecticut." These state and federal constitutional provisions concern the rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions, such as the right to a speedy trial and the right to counsel.


[1] Public Act. No. 06-140; House Bill 5212.

[2] Id.