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Fort Bend County, At Large
By Cheryl Skinner

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


Protecting our sources

Newspaper reporters depend a lot of outside sources to get to the bottom of many stories. In fact some stories would never be written if it were not for those “unnamed sources” that tell the media, behind a cloak of secrecy, about something amiss in a governmental agency, corporation, school or business. Many a public official or corporate executive have met their downfall through such exposure. Now a state legislator is trying to protect journalists at the behest of some of the state’s largest media representatives. I say it is past due and a long time coming.

Media attorney Laura Lee Prather was quoted as saying the media currently has no protection under the law and the general public is therefore being harmed when she testified before state officials recently.

Under a proposal the news groups are calling the “Free Flow of Information Act,” government agencies, as a general rule, could not force a journalist to disclose legally obtained information from a confidential or non-confidential source.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have a shield law, she said.

Prosecutors and many in law enforcement do not support the proposed law change. They fear the secrecy of the Texas grand jury system would be compromised.

Horse petunias! The Texas Grand Jury system is seldom without leaks and while it is a violation to tell about what is going on behind those sacred doors, often a courthouse coffee shop can quickly dispel the rumor that the sanctity of the grand jury is always maintained.

In most cases an informant or confidential source is hesitant to give the media information even though they want wrongdoing brought out in public, for fear they will be discovered and suffer repercussions. And while the media wants to keep sources secret, they often are forced to disclose this information or go to jail themselves. A few of the national media types have steadfastly, and with grandiose pomp, marched to jail in handcuffs while vowing to keep their sources secret forever. While all of us in the smaller media admire this virtuous act and envy the big bucks that come after such name recognition and notoriety, few of us really want to eat jail cuisine even if our jail does brag about the best little kolaches in Texas.

Most of the time our sources are eager to be revealed, but there are those who are not and have critical information. For that reason, I personally hope the legislators consider this act and give us a little more leeway in bringing forth critical news stories to the public.

While it is not uncommon to read in a story “sources say” that can mean we have so blamed many of them, it would be silly to list them all. Or it can mean we have a couple very scared folks trying to tell a story behind a veil of secrecy and fear. You just never know.


Contact skinnerc1@ev1.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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   Last Update:  December 27, 2006