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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A valuable shield protects your right to know

Minnesota's seldom-tested shield law has taken a couple of interesting shots in recent weeks.

Earlier this month it was revealed that KMSP reporter Tom Lyden had two months of cell phone records seized by St. Paul police as part of an ongoing investigation into whether a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy leaked private data to Lyden. The data was later determined to be public, and the investigation was dropped after protests from First Amendment advocates.

Then, on Tuesday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals struck down a ruling ordering a reporter to give prosecutors unpublished notes from an interview with a man who shot two police officers before killing himself.

Every first-semester journalism school student is taught the importance of shield laws, but few reporters are ever called on to invoke the law in response to a request that they reveal their sources. Media members in Minnesota are fortunate to be covered by the Minnesota Free Flow of Information Act, which provides a greater level of protection for reporters by requiring that three strict standards are met before disclosure is compelled by the court. The fact that the two recent shield law squabbles went the way of media outlets should be a relief not only to journalists, but to everybody who values transparency and disclosure from government entities.

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