Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed the “Shield Law for Journalists” bill at the Statehouse on May 17, 2017. The law protects journalists from having to reveal confidential sources and information received. Paul Heintz, a member of the executive board of the Vermont Press Association, which pushed for the new law, was asked by Gov. Scott to offer comments at the signing. These are his prepared remarks.
Make no mistake: Reporters and their sources are under attack in the United States of America. Just yesterday, the New York Times reported that, at an Oval Office meeting in February, the president asked his FBI director to jail reporters for publishing classified material.
We don’t hear such deeply un-American threats here in Vermont, but that does not mean Vermont reporters and news organizations don’t face grave threats. For too long, this state has allowed its judicial system to haul journalists up on the stand and compel them to testify, with few limitations. For too long, it has allowed overzealous attorneys to force reporters to disclose unpublished information and reveal the identities of confidential sources.
That changes today.
We are fortunate in Vermont that our elected officials were willing to engage in this complex but deeply important conversation. And we are fortunate that throughout this debate, lawmakers — Democrats, Republicans and Progressives alike — never saw this as a partisan issue. Despite what Steve Bannon might say, the media is not “the opposition party.” The First Amendment belongs to everybody and protects us all.
On behalf of the Vermont Press Association and our coalition of journalists, I would like to thank Sens. White and Sears for introducing and fighting for S.96. I would also like to thank Attorney General Donovan and Secretary of State Condos for getting behind it from the start — and Reps. Grad, Conquest and LaLonde for ushering it through the House. Thank you, governor, for signing it into law.
I would also like to recognize the journalists who took a risk by shedding their journalistic objectivity to lobby — there, I said it — for this bill:
- John Dillon of Vermont Public Radio
- Anne Galloway of VTDigger.org
- Mark Davis of Seven Days
- Adam Silverman of the Burlington Free Press
- Mike Donoghue of the Vermont Press Association
- Rep. Jim Condon, representing the Vermont Broadcasters Association
- Andrew MacLean, representing WCAX
And, most of all, two journalists who got the ball rolling and were involved at every stage of this process:
- Independent journalist Hilary Niles
- And the great Dave Gram
I hope this bill signing will serve as a reminder that, in such troubling times, it is incumbent upon us as journalists to stand up for our rights. If we don’t, nobody else will.
Finally, now that this bill is becoming law, I would like to implore Vermonters to reach out to us reporters with stories that need to be told. If you have faced injustice at the hand of a powerful person or institution, let us know. If you are a potential whistleblower, get in touch with us and blow that whistle. Thanks to S.96, we can now more fully protect you.
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