Friday, September 13, 2013

US to get Shield Law?

Yesterday, the US Senate Judiciary Committee passed out a proposed bill that would provide journalists some protections from having to testify or reveal sources - at least more than they currently have at the Federal level.  From what I can see in press reports, there are three serious gaps in the so-called shield law.
  1. The proposed bill is clear that the protection is limited - Federal authorities retain the power to "compel disclosure" that might prevent or stop "serious crimes" or harm national security.  That's a potentially huge exemption
  2. The bill expressly does not protect those disclosing "primary-source documents... without authorization."  While aimed at Wikileaks, remember that in the Pentagon Papers case, the NY Times coverage was based on disclosing "primary-source documents... without authorization."
  3. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) insisted on amending the bill limiting protection to "real reporters."
          "I can't support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege …"
    The amendment language defines a covered journalist as someone working for "an entity or service that disseminates news and information."  That is, you're considered a journalist not in terms of what you do, but who you work for.
 The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press was lukewarm in its response, indicating that the proposed law
"goes a long way toward ensuring that reporters will be protected from subpoenas for their confidential information and sources.... While is it not as inclusive as we would like, it is not nearly as limited in that area as previous attempts at a federal shield law have been."
In this case, I'm not sure that such a limited shield is worth supporting.

Source -  Bill to protect journalists clears Senate panel, Los Angeles Times

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