Legislation will protect

Coralie Carlson

Legislators took steps last week to strengthen laws protecting journalists and their unpublished materials from the courts, a move partially provoked by a high-profile lawsuit against The Minnesota Daily five years ago.
House members overwhelmingly passed the press shield law, officially called the Free Flow of Information Act, with a 123-6 vote on Thursday. The Senate companion bill passed unanimously in the beginning of the month.
The press shield bill clarifies current law, established in 1973, allowing journalists to keep unpublished notes, negatives and tapes confidential and safe from court subpoenas. The bill’s passage will help the media collect and disseminate information, which will ultimately benefit the public, said Mark Anfinson, a lawyer for the University.
Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, who authored the House bill, said the County Attorney’s Office was initially concerned it would inhibit casework, but now it does not oppose his bill.
Now that the bill passed in both chambers, it is waiting for Gov. Arne Carlson’s signature.
Without the bill, many journalists worry they could become a research service for the police, or sources will be wary to talk, knowing their interviews could be scrutinized in court.
A judge could still review journalists’ material on a case by case basis to determine whether it is necessary for the case. The bill also doesn’t protect eyewitness accounts, so it would not have applied to the Daily case.
In 1993, a Daily staff member photographed a fight between skin heads and opponents outside Coffman Union. The unpublished negatives were subpoenaed in the case that ensued, but the Daily resisted.
“It became undoubtedly the most famous Minnesota media case,” said Anfinson, who lobbied for the bill.
The Daily lost its appeals, and in 1996 Daily Editor in Chief Michele Ames was held in contempt of court. She never turned over the negatives.
Anfinson said most cases do not involve eye-witness accounts, adding, “That’s why this is going to be important.”