Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pass Shield Law Now: Delaying Past December Could Doom a Federal Shield Law for Another Five Years

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pass Shield Law Now: Delaying Past December Could Doom a Federal Shield Law for Another Five Years

Article excerpt

IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS, LEGISLATION to at last create a federal shield law has not progressed so far as in 2010. The Free Flow of Information Act, S. 448, has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is ready for a vote by the full Senate. Or it would be ready for a vote, that is, if WikiLeaks this summer hadn't posted tens of thousands of classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan, sending legislators into a panic.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., now wants to fiddle with the legislation, introducing new definitions of journalists and, inevitably, weakening its protection.

The problem, say legislative observers and journalist associations including the Society of Professional Journalists, is that if the shield law isn't passed by the time the current Congress expires in December the legislation could languish for another five years.

There are real consequences to delaying the bill, which would provide protection from federal subpoenas against reporters who refuse to identify confidential sources in certain circumstances. And as RonNell Anderson Jones, an associate professor of law at Birmingham University recently told SPJ's national convention, more than 7,000 state and federal subpoenas were issued to journalists in just the past year alone.

"Delaying or killing this bill isn't just a blow to journalists covering the federal government; it's a blow to the American people who will see fewer stories about their government," says SPJ President Kevin Smith. "Unprotected sources don't generally share information with the media. …

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