A shield law is law that gives reporters protection against being forced to disclose confidential information or sources in state court. There is no federal shield law and state shield laws vary in scope. In general, however, a shield law aims to provide the classic protection of, “a reporter cannot be forced to reveal his or her source” law. Thus, a shield law provides a privilege to a reporter pursuant to which the reporter cannot be forced by subpoena or other court order to testify about information contained in a news story and/or the source of that information. Several shield laws additionally provide protection for the reporter even if the source or information is revealed during the dissemination of the news story, that is whether or not the source or information is confidential. Shield laws do not ensure absolute protection. Depending on the jurisdiction, the privilege may be total or qualified, and it may also apply to other persons involved in the news-gathering and dissemination process as well, such as an editor or a publisher.
Shield laws protect a journalist and their sources by allowing journalists the option of not disclosing the identity of their source. Forty states have passed shield laws thus far, varying from state to state. Some protections applying to civil cases, but not to criminal cases. These laws hold much importance in order to allow reporters to do their job to the fullest extent. There are many discrepancies between state-to-state Shield Laws, which cause others and myself to argue for a federal shield law.