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New Hawaii shield law draft cuts out free, online-only media

    The state Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee on Wednesday made substantial revisions to a media shield law, removing bloggers and other nontraditional journalists and deleting the protection for unpublished information, like notes, unless it would lead to the identity of confidential sources. Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Heeia-Laie-Waialua), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, described the revisions as "a balanced approach" that would still preserve some protection for journalists against the compelled disclosure of their sources in court.

A panel of Hawaii lawmakers approved a new draft of the state shield law today that removes protections for free newspapers and magazines and requires that newspapers must be printed in order to be covered.

Hawaii’s shield law, which protects journalists from revealing sources and notes in court proceedings, is set to expire in June. The proposal, approved by a committee of negotiators, would make the law permanent but also drastically limit its scope.

The bill now goes to the House and Senate floors for a vote.

Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, has been pushing to change the law, saying the language is too vague. He has also criticized Hawaii’s media for making mistakes and said some online media is mean-spirited.

Hee added the bill amendments that cut protections for free newspapers and magazines and the requirement that newspapers must be printed, not digital.

Rep. Karl Rhoads said he disagreed with those changes but thought that the latest draft was better than no shield law at all.

“It’s not my favorite bill,” he said. “I can’t say I’m really happy, it’s just — that’s the nature of compromise.”

News media advocates say the shield law encourages investigative journalism and allows whistleblowers to come forward. But the state attorney general agreed with Hee and said that Hawaii’s law is too broad because it gives protections to non-traditional journalists.

The current law has some exceptions, including in felony and defamation cases. The new proposal extends the exceptions to include civil cases, potential felonies and serious crimes when someone is unlawfully injured.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, the only committee member to vote against the proposal, said she supports simply making the current law permanent rather than changing it.

“We have the best shield law in the nation and we recognize that the media has changed,” she said. “This bill is almost punitive.”

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