Wick Communications

Montana makes a stand

In journalism on October 1, 2015 at 12:25 pm

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Join me in a toast to the great state of Montana, home of our own Sidney Herald.

As a result of a vote earlier this year, On Oct. 1 the state became the first in the nation to provide an absolute privilege for reporters’ communications that might be stored digitally elsewhere. That means state agencies can’t subpoena Google or Facebook, for instance, in order to get reporter emails or posts. You may be surprised to learn that your gmail – including that in your Wick Communications accounts — is not really yours; once a gmail message is sent it is stored on third-party servers and can be had in most places by virtue of a court order or simply by asking for it. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

The change in law might seem subtle, but consider how important it is for reporters to have confidential sources in government. Many government employees, contractors and plain old citizens won’t speak on the record about very important things for fear of reprisal. Quoting confidential sources should always be very rare, but many of us routinely speak to people off the record if only to confirm what we already know.

The new law protecting reporter privilege was sponsored by a Republican legislator. And no one spoke in opposition, according to an account in the Billings, Mont., Missoulian.

You can read James Warren’s account on the Poynter site. …

He quotes state Rep. Daniel Zolnikov thusly: “A few legislators questioned the importance of protecting the press when they felt a bias was obvious in Montana political reporting. But this was easy to refute when I explained this strengthens our First Amendment rights.”

We’ll count that as a win for the good guys.

Clay

Thanks to Rep. Daniel Zolnikov for contacting me with an important correction. The above version corrects to note that while the law changed on Oct. 1, the vote was actually earlier this year.

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