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Colorado Dems kill bill to strengthen protections for the media

Greg Campbell
Contributor

A bill that would have strengthened protections for journalists and their sources was killed in committee by Colorado Democrats.

The bill was modeled after New York’s tough media shield law and would have raised the bar for forcing reporters to testify about their sources in court. It was inspired by the case of New York-based Fox News reporter Jana Winter, who was subpoenaed to testify about who provided information that Aurora theater shooter James Holmes mailed a notebook of information to his psychiatrist.

The New York Court of Appeals ultimately rejected Colorado’s subpoena, ruling that New York’s shield law protected her from testifying.

“I was deeply fortunate to be from a state that gives the strongest available protections to journalists and their confidential sources,” Winter said in a statement read by bill sponsor Republican Sen. Bernie Herpin before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

She said that the very threat of being forced to testify in Colorado about her sources impacted other stories she was working on, to the ultimate detriment to the public.

“Sources with access to information that could have contributed meaningfully to the public’s participation in our democracy decided, as a result of Holmes’ subpoena, that the risk was simply too great for them to come forward,” she said. “As a direct consequence, reports that I had been pursuing on issues of national security, terrorism, and government corruption never saw the light of day, and the public went uninformed.”

But the bill to align Colorado’s law with the stronger one in New York was shot down on a 3-2 party line vote in the Democratic-controlled committee, with one senator saying that the interests of the court sometimes outweighed those of reporters, according to The Associated Press.

“[O]f course I’m disappointed that we didn’t strengthen the shield law because I think that freedom of the press acting as watchdogs of government is very important,” Herpin told the AP.

As noted by the conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics, the bill was killed during a period of tension between Colorado Democrats and the media. Just Monday, the Colorado Press Association sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, complaining that her barring the media from a public meeting in Colorado caused local officials to violate the state’s open meetings laws and it trampled on the barred reporter’s First Amendment rights.

Last week, the Democratically appointed head of the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies ignored an open records act request from Colorado media to reveal the identities of a panel that investigated claims of bullying by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall over a disagreement about Obamacare cancellations.

The official eventually named the panel members, explaining that she was trying to protect them from “scurrilous accusations of partisanship or worse.”

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