Who Accredits Periodicals in Rhode Island?

The Rhode Island Newsman's Privilege Act provides (emphasis added):

Except as provided in ยง 9-19.1-3, no person shall be required by any court, grand jury, agency, department, or commission of the state to reveal confidential association, to disclose any confidential information, or to disclose the source of any confidential information received or obtained by him or her in his or her capacity as a reporter, editor, commentator, journalist, writer, correspondent, newsphotographer, or other person directly engaged in the gathering or presentation of news for any accredited newspaper, periodical, press association, newspaper syndicate, wire service, or radio or television station.

What could "accredited" possibly mean here? (And, no, this is not a normal locution in such statutes.)

UPDATE: Just to make it clear, I realize that reporters are sometimes given credentials to access some government event or function, for instance to participate in White House press conferences, get seating in the Supreme Court's press gallery, or get an office in the Supreme Court press room. That's necessary to ration scarce space or time, and sometimes also to provide adequate security. But it's done by each government entity, and doesn't provide any sort of general "accreditation" of a newspaper; a newspaper may have access to White House press briefings but not an office in the Supreme Court, and some newspapers and periodicals that don't specialize in hot news may not seek credentials for access to any government function. There's no reason to think that this sort of case-by-case credentialing for access to particular government functions would bear on whether the newspaper's employees get an evidentiary privilege as to stories that had nothing to do with such government functions.

Been There Done That:
This is an irremediable problem of a "journalist's" privelege. What non-tendentious principled criteria can be employed to ascertain who is or who is not a journalist? And why am I not a journalist if I 'publish' on the internet? The whole idea of priveleging some people who disseminate ideas but not others, is odious.
11.28.2005 6:27pm
Cornellian (mail):
I'd be very surprised if the statute used the term "accredited" without providing a definition. It's not a legal term like "fiduciary duty" that comes packaged with a well known common law meaning. There's absolutely nothing in the quoted excerpt that would indicate what it means to be accredited, or who does the accrediting.

If there's nothing in the statute to answer this question, which should have been instantly obvious to whoever drafted it, we probably have another situation where a court, no matter how it rules, is going to take some flack for a problem that really should be blamed on a sloppy legislature.
11.28.2005 6:37pm
Lots of entities "accredit" news organizations, starting (but not ending) with the White House. I would interpret the statute simply to mean that the privilege applies to any organization that has been "accredited" by any entity that accredits news organizations.

It isn't any different from statutes that give privileges to "ordained ministers"--if someone has ordained you, you're in. The appropriate governmental agencies, and the courts, deal with abuses.
11.28.2005 6:41pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
That reminds me of my DD degree and ordination by the Ministers of the New Truth some 35 years ago. You got your DD degree and ordination for I think $75. And the guy who ordained me actually performed a couple of marriages.

But if anyone can accredit news organizations, then we need one of such on the Internet. Maybe a couple of them, one on the right and one on the left. After all, after Matt Drudge broke the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it is hard to argue that there isn't real news reporting on the Internet.
11.28.2005 6:48pm
Richard Riley (mail):
Could there be, or have been, some "accreditation" process by which a newspaper became an official organ for legal announcements - probate notices, property foreclosures, etc.? I could see there being some process whereby a newspaper proves that it is a publication of "general circulation" or some such. That actually could be pretty handy for executors, mortgagees, tax assessors, and other people who are required to publish notices in such a publication, as is fairly common. I've never heard of there being any sort of accreditation process for this, but it's not inconceivable - maybe the local clerk of court would be the "accreditor."
11.28.2005 6:49pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
I think the process Willard describes is called "credentialing", which is different from "accrediting". To acredit something is to say it meets minimum appropriate standards for entities of its type. We accredit colleges, hospitals, etc. all the time, but we don't accredit churches, parents, or (I thought) journalists. The term suggests that the state can give some publications a legally preferred status, which strikes me as facially unconstitutional.

I agree with Cornellian that the legislature has probably defined the term, though I don't agree that the definition would likely be in the same statute. States often have statutes which define terms for use in all other statutes, or which do so only for particular chapers or sections. Here in California, it is rare to find the term defined in the same statute where it is used, if only because most terms are used repeatedly and defining them each time would be cumbersome.
11.28.2005 7:09pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Give me a little credit, folks: If the statute had defined "accredited," I wouldn't be asking the question. Nor is there any general definition of "accredited" that I could find in the Rhode Island statutes. If you folks can find it, please do.

Various government bodies do decide who is to get press credentials for special access to this or that event or function. But that sort of credential -- which is a credential for access to a particular location where space is scarce or where security is important -- seems to have little to do with whether a journalist should get an evidentiary privilege for newsgathering that may be completely unrelated to any such special access.
11.28.2005 7:14pm
AppSocREs (mail):
For $100 I will be happy to accredit any entity as a news organization. Please contact me for an appropriate form to complete. Checks should be made out to cash.
11.28.2005 7:19pm
sbw (mail) (www):
Our daily newspaper is accredited by the United States Postal Service to be eligible for newspaper postage rates. If the USPS can vouch for Kris Kringle as Santa Claus in "Miracle on 34th Street," their decision accrediting our newspaper is good enough for me. ;-)
11.28.2005 8:51pm
I think accreditation in exchange for the evidentiary privilege is a good idea. Nearly all other privilege holders have some degree of accreditation. That permits revocation of the privilege if the person acts unethically.

If journalists want an evidentiary privilege similar to what I "enjoy" as an attorney, let them be subject to the same degree of regulation.

In order to obtain the right (and duty) to assert the attorney-client privilege, I had to fill out a detailed application (ten to twenty pages, if I remember right) that included a history of every place I had lived for the past ten years and all of my former employers. I had to be finger printed and subjected to a criminal background check. Then I had to sit for a multi-day exam that included professional ethics.

Too many journalists want to pretend that they're professionals. They want the perks, but they reject the regulation that comes with those "perks."
11.29.2005 8:19am
sbw (mail) (www):
Having been cute above, now let me be serious.

Look at the history of attempts to accredit journalists by arms of the United Nations operating at the behest of tyrants. You do not want accreditation. It puts someone in the position to withhold it.

I have written on my blog that journalism isn't a profession, it is an accolade acquired fresh each day. This is the connundrum of what previously have been shield laws. Technology now obliges us to put away the broad brush to consider specific cases: How does one allocate scarce resources like seats in a courtroom? How does one protect free inquiry and balance the rights of an accused? How does one allow for the next Pentagon Papers?
11.29.2005 9:06am