Representative Introduces Bill To Shield Reporters' Sources

Massachusetts legislator James W. Segel '67 introduced a bill yesterday to expand journalists' and scholars' rights to protect the confidentiality of their sources.

Segel said yesterday that his bill would provide unlimited protection to the confidentiality of sources for all those people "who intend to publish" as a result of their conversations with an anonymous source.

Other Bills Proposed

Several other bills, including one introduced by State Attorney General Robert H. Quinn, would provide similar protection, but would force disclosure of confidential sources should a judge find "substantial evidence" that "the information is necessary to permit a criminal prosecution," Segal said.

Those bills that give discretionary powers which allow judges to force a journalist to testify cannot be effective, Segal said. "Newsmen have gone to jail in recent months in states that had similar laws on their books," he added.

Unlike most other "shield bills," Segal's bill will also protect the content of confidential conversations in most cases, he said.

Should the prosecution of certain felonies require the content of a conversation, the bill would force a journalist to testify. Those required to testify would still have the right to refuse to name their source, Segel explained.

Segel said that he doesn't know what chance his bill has of passing. He added, "There is, however, sentiment in the Legislature to pass a [newsmen's] bill."

Segel's bill covers more than just professional newsmen, he said. By protecting all those "intending to publish," the bill would cover scholars, authors and members of student newspapers, Segel said.

CLUM Concerned

He said that he composed the bill in conjunction with the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (CLUM). The CLUM has expressed concern in the past that forcing newsmen to reveal their sources restricts freedom of the press.

Samuel L. Popkin, lecturer on Government, refused to comment last night on the new bill. He said that he was unwilling to discuss anything he had not read.

Popkin refused last fall to discuss before a Federal grand jury confidential sources who had contributed to his research. He was found in contempt of court and spent several days in jail.