Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Judge Dents Illinois Shield Law

Madison County (Ill.) Circuit Court Judge Richard Tognarelli has rebuffed The Alton Telegraph's invoking of the state's shield law to withhold the identities of anonymous bloggers on the newspaper's Web site.
Five bloggers, who posted comments anonymously on a Telegraph news article concerning the fatal beating of a five-year-old boy, were the subject of a subpoena from Madison County sheriff's detectives, who sought to question the individuals. The Telegraph sought to quash the subpoena, arguing that Illinois' shield law protecting journalists from disclosing their sources also screened the identities of the bloggers from being revealed. Judge Tognarelli rejected the argument in his decision on May 15, holding the shield law "does not address the applicability of the Act to online bloggers," which he said is the province of the Legislature. Posting comments on a newspaper Web site does not make a blogger a news source, attorneys for the state successfully argued. Judge Tognarelli did rule, however, that only two of the bloggers, who may have relevant information to the murder investigation, had to be named, and not three other bloggers whose remarks he deemed not useful to the murder probe.
Not a terribly progressive viewpoint from the Land of Lincoln. Courts in other states, ranging from Montana, in a case involving The Billings Gazette, to Oregon, in a case involving The Portland Mercury and Wilamette Week, have held that shield laws do protect newspapers from having to disclose the names of those anonymous bloggers who comment on news stories.


  1. I would respectfully disagree with Shelt's assertion that the ruling wasn't "progressive." There is nothing inherently progressive or regressive in shield laws. Shield laws are an attempt to achieve a balance between the legitimate needs of law enforcement investigations and the benefits of a vigorous press. Where bloggers fit into this is a tough issue. If I go to the barber shop and mouth off about an investigation, very few would argue that I suddenly become "the press" and am deserving of shield law protection. Does that change simply because I, clad in my pajamas, rant in a blog comment?

  2. Ignoring for the moment why Nunway wears pajamas when he gets a haircut, I would concede that a comment unrelated to a blog post does not raise a shield law question. Though state specific, shield laws often are worded so as to protect news organizations and "any person connected with or employed by a news organization for the purpose of gathering, writing, editing or disseminating news." The nexus of online commenters to the newspaper warrants protection. Anonymous speech in a printed newspaper story is protected by shield laws, and blog posts are anonymous speech in a different form.

  3. Is it a shield law issue or a First Amendment question?
    When the government starts demanding the source of
    writing in a newspaper, I set my Zenger on stun.

    As for pajamas, I've never ranted in them, but I did
    shoot an elephant once. What he was doing in my
    pajamas, I'll never know.