The Challenge of Internet and Social Media on Shield Law Legislation: The Four Dimensions of Reporter's Privilege

8 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2017

Date Written: August 14, 2017


Journalists’ right to use confidential information and anonymous sources is considered to be one of the cornerstones of press freedom and democracy. A legislation called shield law or reporter’s privilege protects journalists from being compelled to testify about confidential information, simplifies the situation regarding sources of delicate information, and ultimately advances the free flow of information in society.

The rudimentary objectives of shield laws are widely accepted in democratic societies. The goal is to promote open communication about important but sensitive topics. In the absence of a privilege journalists would be more cautious of the consequences of their stories and sources would communicate less openly. If the sources believe that their identities may be disclosed, the future news sources may be hesitant to provide information and public discussion would suffer from so called chilling effect.

In spite of rather commonly shared understanding of the benefits of shield laws as a vital part of journalisms watchdog function, there is a great deal of variations on how privilege is regulated in different countries, states, and territories. The scope of shield law, persons covered, interpretation power of judges, and exceptions for the main rule vary considerably among jurisdictions. The differences reflect not only details of stipulation but also fundamental principles behind the objectives of legislature.

The balance between encouraging access to information and maintaining effective justice system is the core of the variations between jurisdictions. In order to gather sensitive/delicate news, journalists must sometimes guarantee their sources’ confidentiality. Courts and judges, on the other hand, have a competing interest in obtaining the information they need to prosecute criminal cases. The approach on this balance delineates the special characteristics of journalist’s privilege in each jurisdiction.

This paper presents a classification of shield law legislations based on comparisons within and among Australia, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the US.

Keywords: Shield law, reporter's privilege, journalism, internet, bloggers

JEL Classification: K29

Suggested Citation

Mörä, Tuomo, The Challenge of Internet and Social Media on Shield Law Legislation: The Four Dimensions of Reporter's Privilege (August 14, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Tuomo Mörä (Contact Author)

University of Helsinki ( email )


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