Apr. 8, 2008  

SPJ Leaders Defend Media Shield Bill

INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists Friday urged members of the Bush Administration, the United States Department of Justice and members of the United States Senate to forego attempts to stifle the passage of S. 2035, the Free Flow of Information Act.

On Thursday, the Department of Justice released additional information regarding the Administration’s concerns with the proposed media shield legislation. The department also launched a new Web page to serve as the central location for information from the Justice Department and other federal agencies on media shield proposals. Citing concerns over national security as well as an inability to investigate other crimes, the Web site includes joint letters from Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, additional letters from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that were sent to Senate leadership, the chairs and ranking members of the respective oversight committees for the departments as well as other publicly released materials related to the shield bill.

“The administration’s concerns with this bill are absolutely unfounded,” SPJ President Clint Brewer said. “We’ve been working with key Senate staff on compromises to ensure that the bill contains all necessary safeguards to protect national security. This is the administration’s transparent attempt to use national security as an excuse to continue to use journalists as an additional arm of law enforcement. Rarely are there times when a journalist is the last resort for the government to get information that could not be tracked down elsewhere. The job of a journalist is to keep a check on government and to hold the administration accountable.”

Known as the media shield bill, S. 2035 would protect the public’s right to speak out and promote the people’s right to know. It 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. By a vote of 398-21 on Oct. 16, the House passed its version of the bill, H.R. 2102 that was introduced by Reps. Rick Boucher, (D-Va.) and Mike Pence, (R-Ind.). With bi-partisan support from 71 co-sponsors, 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 statues that protect journalists from being forced to testify or disclose sources and information. No statutory protection currently exists for federal cases.

A Senate vote has not been scheduled. However, to show support for a federal shield law, SPJ leaders are encouraging journalists and public citizens to contact members of the U.S. Senate. To locate a list of U.S. Senate members, visit Senate.gov.

Since 2006, SPJ has raised more than $30,000 to support a campaign for the passage of a federal shield law. The work to ensure passage of such a law is ongoing.

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