Sen. Clayton Hee says online journalists will be protected from being forced to reveal their sources — but only if their publications meet the definition of a magazine.

Hee on Thursday refuted media reports saying Hawaii’s shield law had been changed to exclude certain online news sites.

He said House Bill 622, which seeks to make permanent the 5-year-old shield law that’s set to expire in June, would still protect reporters who work for Internet-only publications even after the amendments his Judiciary and Labor Committee approved Wednesday.

Civil Beat, for instance, would be protected under the definition of a “magazine,” Hee said.

The legislation defines the term as “a publication containing news which is published and distributed ordinarily not less frequently than four times a year, either through print or digital means, and has done so for at least one year with a paid circulation.”

But longtime bloggers who don’t charge, such as Ian Lind, or online news sites just starting out would be out of luck.

Civil Beat, and other online news sources such as Hawaii Reporter, don’t fit under the definition of “news agency” in the bill. News agency is defined as “a commercial organization that collects and supplies news to subscribing newspapers, magazines, or radio and television broadcasters.”

But what about news websites that don’t charge like Big Island Video News and The Hawaii Independent, or ProPublica, YahooNews and The Huffington Post for that matter?

First Amendment attorney Jeff Portnoy said Thursday that he still believes the bill, as amended, excludes online news sites. He represents 22 media organizations who formed the Hawaii Journalism Shield Law Coalition to try to get the Legislature to simply remove the sunset provision and leave the current law intact.

Civil Beat, Hawaii Reporter, the Associated Press and other media reported that the amended version of the bill would exclude online news sites.

Hee said he doesn’t care what Civil Beat or other online news sources want to be referred to as in the law.

“You may not consider yourself a magazine. I don’t necessarily consider myself lots of things,” he said. “My main concern is Civil Beat is included, regardless.”

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