Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November 2014, 13:39 GMT

Top officials publicly support improved federal shield law

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 6 November 2009
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Top officials publicly support improved federal shield law, 6 November 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4af92ae114.html [accessed 28 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Reporters Without Borders welcomes Attorney General Eric Holder and NSA director, Dennis C. Blair's endorsement of the latest version of the Free Flow of Information Act, aimed at protecting reporters from having to divulge their confidential sources. In a letter released on November 5th, Blair and Holder acknowledged "the critical role that the media plays in a free and democratic society" and urged legislators to pass the bill as it stands, without the addition of further amendments limiting its scope. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its support for the new version of the Act, which would extend its protection to unpaid bloggers, and hopes it will be approved as soon as possible.

Administration endorsement

03.11.09 - Towards a better protection for reporters' sources at a federal level

Reporters Without Borders welcomes an agreement reached by the White House, leading Democrats senators and a coalition of news organizations on Oct. 31, 2009 , regarding the Free Flow of Information Act (FFOA). Under this new deal, reporters and unpaid bloggers engaged in gathering and disseminating news can protect their sources, without facing fines or jail time if federal judges consider ther information of public interest. However, nonconfidential information, like unpublished interview notes or news footage that has not been televised, continue to be unprotected and will have to be disclosed if requested by federal judges.

"By reaching this agreement,the Obama administration moderates its position", the organization said. "This procedure will allow journalists and bloggers to explain why it is in the public interest to keep their sources confidential.But the disclosure of sources from unpublished material, for national security reasons, still exists and we deeply regret that provision has not been watered down".

The Free Flow of Information Act is a bipartisan bill, also known as the "Media Shield Law". The bill was passed in the lower house by 398 votes to 21 on Oct. 16, 2007 after being approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Aug. 1st, 2007. A different version was adopted by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct, 4, 2008.

This bill is sponsored by Democratic senators Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Charles E. Schumer of New York. The Shield Law bill would "maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclosure of information by certain persons connected with the news media."

An amendment added to the bipartisan bill would create a federal shield law for journalists that does not differentiate between amateur bloggers and internet journalists anymore. The version approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee defines journalists in a large concept and would in principle apply to all those "engaged in journalism" even if they are not necessarily being paid for their work. A journalist is defined in the Senate version as someone who regularly reports and writes as a salaried employee and disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means.

"We are glad that bloggers would be protected by this bill and hope that nothing will call this decision into question", said the press freedom organization. "Including them is a positive step for online free speech and can be an example for other countries which wish to adapt their media laws to the new means of communications means".

While the House version takes into account any subpoenas, this version of the bill grants only a qualified privilege, not an absolute one, and provides protection only in case of subpoenas asking for information related to confidential sources.

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its desire to see the Free Flow of Information Act approved as soon as possible and encourages the Senate to pass it.

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