Currently 49 states and the District of Columbia protect reporters from being compelled to reveal confidential sources, but no law exists on the federal level. A federal shield law is necessary to preserve an important channel of communication between journalists and their confidential sources and to maintain an informed citizenry.
Recently, several major events occurred that highlight the need for a federal shield law. Those events range from the subpoena of 20 Associated Press phone lines without notice, which denied The Associated Press the ability to seek judicial review of the subpoena, to leak investigations that remain ongoing.
The Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987) gained traction in the fall of 2013, successfully passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last September with broad bipartisan support by a vote of 15-3. The legislation is now expected to come before the full Senate for a vote.
The National Newspaper Association joins with a broad coalition of publishers, networks, broadcasters and journalism organizations in support of a federal shield law.
Please contact your Senators today and urge them to support S. 987!
Why Congress Should Support a Federal Shield law:
- Overbroad subpoenas can be burdensome to small newsrooms. Independent review by a federal court following strict guidelines will prevent the overbroad seizure of information, and bring transparency to the process. While current high-profile subpoenas involve national stories, local newspapers can be subjected to investigation and lawsuits where there is little federal protection.
- News-gathering is crucial to an informed public. A chilling effect on news-gathering will limit the access of the public to important information. An informed citizenry is a crucial element of democracy.
- Sources are a critical element of the news-gathering process. Clearly defined protections are needed to maintain an open avenue of communication between sources and journalists.
- National security interests are protected. S.987 balances the need for government access to information with the journalistic privilege. This bill raises no new national security concerns.