Tuesday, July 17, 2007, 7/17/2007 01:29:00 PM

Federal Shield Law for Journalists and Trade Secret Implications

By Todd
The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran an editorial regarding the growing opposition to a federal shield law protecting journalists who use anonymous sources.

As the editorial notes, 0pposition to the proposed shield law has emerged from another potential target of investigative journalism: big business. A coalition that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, beverage companies and tire makers has hired one of the nation's largest litigation firms and one of Washington's high-powered PR firms in its effort to weaken the shield-law protections.

Phil Goldberg, an attorney from the D.C. firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon, denounced the current version as an "absolute protection" that would lead to all sorts of breaches of personal information and trade secrets by opportunistic evildoers. He suggested that companies would be left powerless to find out who was leaking damaging information about their customers or giving away trade secrets.

"Frankly, it could destroy some of these small companies," he warned.

The editorial claims that the amendments proposed by the business groups, however, could seriously chill investigative reporting on consumer, environmental or corporate-malfeasance issues that require confidential sources. They want no federal shield for journalists on revelations involving any trade secret or proprietary information.

We at Womble Trade Secrets seriously doubt either the U.S. Chamber of Commerce OR the association of journalists will finally agree on the propriety of a comprehensive shield law. The latter are incentivized and devoted to make news with hard-hitting, often critical, investigative reports on the members and constituencies of the former. Simply put, big business doesn't like reporters using confidential sources that accuse, in the dark, big business of wrongdoing. Interestingly, though, the news organizations reporters work for often use "closed door" and "secret meeting" sessions to wash their own dirty laundry. All one has to do is recall The New York Times' handling of the Jayson Blair and Howell Raines matters - or CBS's handling of the Dan Rather debacle - to see that they are not ALWAYS letting the light on in.

We'll keep an eye on this battle brewin'.

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