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Virginia May Soon Add Shield Law Protections for Journalists

AP Photo / Steve Helber

Journalists in Virginia may soon be getting new protections against disclosing confidential sources.

Before she was elected to the House of Delegates, Danica Roem was a newspaper reporter for the Gainesville Times and the Prince William Times in Northern Virginia. Now that she’s a delegate, she’s working on a shield law for Virginia, protecting journalists from disclosing confidential sources. 

“As of right now, 40 states and the District of Columbia have shield laws, and by upholding confidentiality with their sources in the face of legal adversity, journalists can face jail time, financial hardship and the loss of their job," Roem explains. "This bill balances freedom of the press with public safety concerns.”

Journalists would still be required to reveal sources when an imminent threat of bodily harm or death exists, although she notes those kinds of cases are extraordinarily rare.

One of the people testifying in favor of the bill was Brian Karem, a journalist who has spent time in jail for refusing to reveal confidential sources. He now works with states across the country to help craft state shield laws. 

“This bill defines journalist. Many states define journalism," he says. "This bill defines what a journalist is, and it’s pretty good about excluding bloggers and people who do not work professionally. It is actually one of the stronger bills that I’ve seen across the country in doing so.”

Roem has actually introduced this bill every year since she was first elected in 2017, but it never got out of the House of Delegates until now. Assuming the bill gets final approval from the Senate, House members will need to take another look at the bill to consider changes made by senators in the Judiciary Committee.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.
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