Source Confidentiality

More than 30 states have some sort of “shield law” that provides statutory protection to reporters who have promised to keep sources of sensitive information confidential, but Wisconsin is NOT one of those states.

Wisconsin DOES recognize a qualified journalist privilege under the state and federal constitutions, but it can be overruled by a court on a sufficient showing of need for the information.

There is no federal law that provides a news reporter the right to refuse to testify about who their sources are, and how they got information.

What you put on the air is public material, but if someone from law enforcement wants access to your reporter’s notes, out-takes, or other materials you gathered but did not broadcast, tell them to get a subpoena.

There was a bill introduced in 2007 on the Federal level, called the “Free Flow of Information Act”, which would have provided some protection to journalists.  It passed the House but not the Senate and died at the end of the session.  The bill had the support of nearly every large media corporation in the country.  It would not have provided a blanket shield, but would have allowed federal judges to decide if a story has a public interest based on information gathered by reporters from confidential sources, and would have provided some protection to reporters.  Similar bills have been introduced in more recent sessions of Congress but none have passed.

In Wisconsin, in 2008, then-Assembly member Joe Parisi (now Dane County Executive)  introduced a shield law bill, but it did not move forward and died at the end of the session.

The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council tracks progress on a proposed shield law, and you can get updates at their website.