In a 13-5 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent the Free Flow of Information Act, a federal “media shield law,” to the Senate floor. The bill’s objective is to protect journalists from being mandated to identify confidential sources or disclosing news-gathering details, except in certain instances when national security or an individual’s safety is clearly at risk.
As reported by USA Today, the Obama administration asked NY Senator Charles Schumer to introduce the bill, after criticism of the administration’s surveillance of Associated Press and Fox News journalists.
This proposal is a great enhancement to freedom of the press. It gives those with important, private information the confidence to share it anonymously for the public good without fear of harsh consequences.
“This legislation ensures that the tough investigative journalism that holds government accountable will be able to thrive,” Senator Schumer said.
CA Senator Dianne Feinstein was also involved in the process, specifically introducing an amendment that defines a journalist as someone who gathers news for “an entity or service that disseminates news and information.”
This distinction excludes Wikileaks or any other such organization that simply leaks confidential documents without authorization, as well as independent bloggers; to the chagrin of some, including Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge, who tweeted “Comments from Sen. Feinstein yesterday on who’s a reporter were disgusting. 17-year old ‘blogger’ is as important as Wolf Blitzer. Fascist!”
Though perhaps not perfect, the bill is a valuable protection of journalistic integrity. It allows journalists to do their job without fear of being jailed and encourages whistleblowers to expose wrongdoing, also without fear of being jailed. The First Amendment gives us freedom of the press, the Free Flow of Information Act gives us freedom of subpoenas.