Rep. Josh Cutler
Free Flow of Information Act, H. 1553
Testimony before Joint Judiciary Committee, 9/25/13
Good afternoon. I am here today to ask for your support of H. 1553, the Free Flow of Information Act.
This is an issue that is personal to me. In May of 1950, my grandparents, John & Roberta Cutler, started a newspaper on their dining room table. It grew into a successful weekly and has been a family business ever since. In the early days the pages were often filled with news of ham & bean suppers, 50thwedding anniversaries and horses escaping from barns. As the town grew so did the complexity of issues.
Fast forward many years later. We launched other newspapers and expanded into other communities. While horses still escape from barns on occasion and a 50th wedding anniversary always makes for a good story, there are lots of other stories that need to be told. And sometimes there are people who want to tell their stories but are afraid to speak out. Whether it’s the beat cop, the part-time janitor, the school assistant or the bashful parent –– without assurances that their stories can be kept confidential sometime important issues go uncovered.
H. 1553 would be a major step forward to address that. This legislation, while newly updated, is not new to the legislature or to this committee. Many of you may be familiar with what this bill is. So today I’d like to tell you what it is NOT:
• This legislation is NOT about protecting the journalist. It’s about protecting journalism. It’s about protecting the source. It’s about protecting the whistleblower. It is a good government issue.
• This legislation is NOT about creating a brand new evidentiary privilege. It’s about codifying an existing common law balancing test so that we have a clear, unambiguous standard that can be uniformly applied.
• This legislation is NOT about creating a road block for our district attorneys or law enforcement. It’s about creating a road map so all parties can operate under a common set of rules. That’s one reason the legislation’s co-sponsors include former prosecutors, a retired police officer, a judge and former corrections director.
• This legislation is NOT about developing a new, unproven legal theory. Media Shield legislation is already on the books and in place in forty (40) other states.
• This legislation is NOT about defining who a journalist is, debating the merits of blogging, or eliminating any assumed protection under the First Amendment or Article 16 of the Mass. State Constitution. It’s about establishing a common sense definition and standard our judges can apply based on the facts before them.
• Finally, this legislation is NOT about helping the media conglomerates, they have legal teams to fight their battles. This legislation is about protecting the little guys: The Duxbury Clippers, The Quincy Suns, the Hull Times, the Groton Landmarks, the Chelsea Record of the world. For many smaller newspapers, radio and TV stations or news outlets the mere threat of litigation or a subpoena can have a chilling effect. Common law remedies or balancing tests are of little use when you do not have the resources necessary to enjoy their protection.
This Media Shield legislation would help provide that protection. I urge a favorable report. Thank you for your consideration.