Texas should protect, foster journalism

The SE Texas Record May 19, 2007, 6:00am

Here at the Record, we know a little something about arbitrary subpoenas of journalists.

So we're encouraged that a proposal intended to prevent them is sailing through the statehouse in Austin.

Texas Senate Bill 966, called the "Free Flow of Information Act" or the "Shield Law," would protect reporters and editors from being forced willy-nilly into revealing their sources, notes and other background materials by lawyers and prosecutors.

Under the measure, journalists could only be compelled to testify in court if a judge deemed it was absolutely necessary to the cause of justice, such as if they were eyewitness to a crime. But journalists couldn't be called on the carpet, intimidated and laid bare "just because" by anyone with a law degree and an ax to grind.

Suffice it to say we're on board with the concept, which really isn't all that novel. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia already have similar laws protecting journalists on the books, and for good reason. Journalism is the most dependable line of defense for the public against abuse of state power.

This was true during the time of King George III as it is today, which is why our Founding Fathers fought so hard to protect freedom of speech as an inalienable right. Unaffected by the First Amendment, power-hungry politicians-- even democratically-elected ones-- have a tendency to run amok.

The same goes for lawyers, as we've seen here in Jefferson County. When left to operate in the shadows, "officer of the court" oft morphs into "agent for funneling myself bigger legal fees."

We're so inundated with media these days that many surely feel they have all they can handle. But that's about Paris Hilton. Where it matters most-- in our city halls and county courtrooms-- we're actually getting less.

But in this modern era of giant, sprawling, complicated governments, stacked with unimaginable power and managed by largely unaccountable mega-bureaucracies, society has never been so starved of hard-hitting journalism. It has never been so in need of aggressive news gathering, probing analysis and vigilant discourse.

The people need free speech now more than ever. S.B. 966 will mean more of it. It deserves to become law.

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