Dear NFPW Members:
This is NFPW’s first First Amendment Network alert in a while and it is on a VERY, VERY important topic. The subject matter is the push for adoption of a federal shield law. FAN is providing information to you so you will know what is going on and then can act accordingly. As you can see below all but two states have shield laws. Passage of a federal shield law has gotten caught up in national security issues and the definition of a journalist, in other words who is covered by the law. Both concerns have been addressed in pending legislation. NFPW has joined a list of publishers, networks, broadcasters, and journalism organizations, asking U.S. Senate’s majority and minority leaders to schedule a vote on S. 987, the Free Flow of Information Act, as soon as possible. We are asking that you on an individual basis, if you feel so inclined, contact your U.S. senator and encourage a vote. The more interest we can show the better. The information below tells you more about the legislation and what’s driving it as well as information on how to contact your senator.
Please ask your senator to ask for a vote on an important First Amendment protection for journalism
In the next few weeks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will consider whether to bring the Free Flow of Information Act, S 987, to the Senate floor for a vote. A well informed America needs this law.
With the FFIA, the federal government would join 48 states and the District of Columbia in preventing lawyers from hauling communicators into a legal process to respond to questions on anything from high profile stories to routine civil lawsuits. Subpoenas of journalists are becoming more frequent. Today’s federal law provides little protection when a subpoena arrives in a federal matter. Journalists are put in harm’s way when what the country really needs is freedom for them to do their jobs.
New York Times reporter James Risen may be headed to jail because there is no law. He has declined to reveal his confidential source for a book chapter about how the CIA may have given the Iranians valuable nuclear technology in a botched attempt to disrupt their nuclear program.
But every day communicators face similar exposure just because they gather information for a living. The new law would protect the news gathering process as well as confidential sources. And it provides essential balance between the public’s right to know and important national security and law enforcement needs. The FFIA is no free pass for journalists.
In today’s digital world, the FFIA takes into account the online journalist as well as the traditional newspaper, magazine, newsletter or broadcast journalist. But it differentiates professional communicators from hobbyists and random bloggers. The person invoking the privilege must have had the primary intent to gather news or information and disseminate it to the public. The person must also have (or had when engaging with the confidential source) some current relationship with a news entity, or have a track record of doing freelance journalism, regardless of the medium of distribution; the definition is meant to be technology-neutral. Importantly, the bill includes a safety valve, giving federal judges the discretion to protect the source of someone who does not fit precisely into the definition of “covered journalist” if the judge finds that doing so would be in the interest of justice.
It is time for America to recognize the importance of journalism to our democracy. Senators should ask Harry Reid to bring up this bill. Senators should vote yes! Please contact your senator today to ask for his or her support. To find contact information for your senator, visit www.senate.gov.