Monday, September 21, 2009

National security issues snag U.S. shield-law bill

Questions about dealing with leaks of national-security information are holding up passage of a federal shield law for journalists, Walter Pincus reports for The Washington Post. The Justice Department wants to do away with the proposed "balancing test" in which judges would weigh the need to compel reporters to disclose sources against the public interest of revealing the information, in favor of a plan that would allow the department to subpoena reporters after convincing a judge that release of information could harm national security. (Read more)

Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told Pincus that despite President Obama's support for a federal shield law, his administration has taken a hard line in prosecuting criminal leak investigations, making a balancing test unlikely. (Read more) After the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't act on the bill Thursday, the Society of Professional Journalists urged its members to contact committee members. SPJ President Kevin Smith said in an editorial that the bill "isn’t meant to uniquely benefit journalists, but rather guarantees that the American public has the valued information needed to ensure its interests are protected."

In a Thursday editorial The New York Times wrote, "Without the ability of reporters and news organizations to protect confidential sources, many important reports about illegal, incompetent or embarrassing behavior that the government is determined to conceal would never see the light of day." The editorial points to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and warrantless wiretapping as recent stories uncovered through confidential sources. "Many believe that the First Amendment and the right to free speech are all that are necessary to ensure a robust press and the free exchange of ideas. But the right to collect important information, and to protect the sources who provide it, is also vital." (Read more)

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