Friday, April 04, 2008

Administration ramps up fight against federal shield law that would protect journalists' sources

The Bush Administration ratcheted up its opposition to a shield law for journalists Thursday, launching a Web site to coordinate and push its point of view. The Society of Professional Journalists replied today with a broadside.

“The Administration’s concerns with this bill are absolutely unfounded,” SPJ President Clint Brewer said. “We’ve been working with key Senate staff on compromises to ensure that the bill contains all necessary safeguards to protect national security. This is the Administration’s transparent attempt to use national security as an excuse to continue to use journalists as an additional arm of law enforcement. Rarely are there times when a journalist is the last resort for the government to get information that could not be tracked down elsewhere. The job of a journalist is to keep a check on government and to hold the Administration accountable.”

Rural news outlets have a stake in this bill, perhaps more than they might think. Defending a subpoena "could be catastrophic" for a small newspaper or broadcast station, says the National Newspaper Association, which lobbies for weeklies. "For small media, subpoenas are particularly disruptive and can cripple a newsroom."

The battle is over S. 2035, the Free Flow of Information Act, which would create in federal law a qualified privilege for journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources, like statutory and case law in almost all states. With bi-partisan support from 71 co-sponsors, the bill has progressed further than any shield bill to date. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 2035 on Oct. 4. By a vote of 398-21 on Oct. 16, the House passed its version of the bill, H.R. 2102.

As drafted, the shield would apply not only to traditional print, television and radio journalists, but also cover freelancers and bloggers "regularly engaged in journalism." A Senate vote has not been scheduled. To show support for the bill, SPJ leaders are encouraging journalists and citizens to contact senators. For more information on the bill, go to this SPJ Web page.

No comments: