Judiciary Committee passes shield bill

September 12, 2013 09:00

The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed the Free Flow of Information Act, which will now move on to the full Senate. In its latest letter to the committee, a coalition of media organizations including RTDNA reiterated its support of the bill.

Although its author, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), stated he would have preferred the bill pass with its original language, an amendment authored by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) more closely defines the journalists and media organizations that would be covered by the law. Those definitions are not yet included in pending legislation in the House, which has not taken up the bill. As written, the bill would cover primarily those working as employees or contractors of media outlets, those who did so for at least one year within the last 20 years or for three months within the last five years; someone with a substantial track record of freelancing in the last five years; or a student journalist.. Citizen bloggers with no professional ties to such organizations would not be covered, although judges would be allowed flexibilty to include such writers in specific circumstances.

The coalition letter states, in part, “We believe that the Free Flow of Information Act sets forth reasonable standards to guide federal judges in assessing requests to compel journalists and their service providers to reveal information that could harm confidential sources and the newsgathering process. The only way to limit this government overreach is through passage of a law that lays out clear rules for when the government can obtain information about journalists and their sources.”

Simliar bills were approved by the committee in 2009 and have twice passed the House of Representatives. The most recent bill was propelled by government investigations that involved reporters at the Associated Press and Fox News. Visit our Shield Law page for a comprehensive collection of news stories and opinions on the issue.