Apr. 14, 2008  

SPJ Leaders Applaud McCain’s Support of Federal Shield Law

INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists Monday welcomed Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain’s support of the Free Flow of Information Act.

Speaking at the Associated Press Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., McCain said he had some reservations about supporting a media shield bill, but would pledge his commitment despite them.

“I’m willing to invest in the press a very solemn trust that in the use of confidential sources, you will not do more harm than good, whether it comes to the security of the nation or the reputation of good people,” McCain said. “And I would hope that when you do something controversial or something that many people find wrong and harmful you would explain fully and honestly how and why you did it, and confess your mistakes, if you made them, in a more noticeable way than afforded by the small print on a corrections page.”

Known as the media shield bill, S. 2035 calls for a qualified, rather than absolute, privilege that would make it easier for journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 2035 on Oct. 4. The House passed its version of the bill, H.R. 2102, on Oct. 16.. With bi-partisan support, the bill has progressed further than any shield bill to date. As drafted, the shield may apply not only to traditional print, television and radio journalists, but also may include coverage for freelancers and bloggers.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have various statutes that protect journalists from being forced to testify or disclose sources and information. No statutory protection currently exists for federal cases.

“Sen. McCain’s support for a federal shield law is welcomed news,” SPJ President Clint Brewer said. “At a time when overzealous prosecutors are attempting to use national security as an excuse to force journalists into acting as an arm of the law, it’s good to know that a presidential hopeful understands that the responsibility of the press is to keep a watchful eye on government.”

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