Senate Considers Federal Shield Law
Congress has kicked around the notion of a federal shield law for journalists for years, but the idea may actually be growing legs. As early as Monday, the Senate may consider "The Free Flow of Information Act." (Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain say they support it.)
Here is what some groups say about the bill (called S. 2035):
- ASNE's fact sheet for journalists covering the story
The Radio and Television News Directors Association offers journalists talking points, including the following:
- Hauling journalists to jail or bankrupting them to force them to reveal their confidential sources is not the American way. Nor does such a practice support our government's efforts to promote democracy and the freedom of the press in other parts of the world.
- S. 2035 is not a free pass for the press. The bill establishes a privilege that would be qualified, not absolute.
- The revised bill provides exceptions requiring reporters to provide information to prevent acts of terrorism or other significant harm to national security, to furnish eyewitness observations of a crime, and to provide information needed to prevent death, kidnapping, or substantial bodily harm.
- Since October, the bill's sponsors have made changes to the committee-passed bill in a good faith effort to address additional Bush Administration concerns on national security.
- The revised legislation establishes reasonable and well-balanced ground rules for procedure for when a reporter can be compelled to testify about confidential sources and when a reporter can receive protection. Federal standards are desperately needed to provide uniformity and predictability in light of conflicting federal court opinions.
- The bill is not about protecting reporters; it's about preserving the public's right to know.
- If sources, including government and private sector whistleblowers, are uncertain whether a reporter will be compelled to reveal their names, they will not come forward, and the public dialogue on important issues will diminish.
- Without confidential sources, groundbreaking stories, such as the conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center, the Enron scandal, and steroid abuse in Major League Baseball, would not have been known to the public – or to the Congress.
Why the Defense Department opposes a federal shield law.
Why Homeland Security opposes a federal shield law.
Why Judith Miller says we need a shield law.
The (Baltimore) Sun wrote an editorial in favor of a shield law. Here is the opening: