o-called “shield laws” have provided protection for at least some journalists who refuse to divulge their sources, something that history teaches us is an imperative if the public is to be exposed to wrongdoing in government and other seats of power.
In the United States, 32 states have passed such laws. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 presented before the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Rick Boucher (R-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) would extend these protections at the federal level. The bill defines journalism as “the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.” An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate by Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).
If passed, this bill would not only provide protection for journalists at a national level, the wording makes no distinction between professional journalists and bloggers. There is precedent for extending protection to bloggers. Last year, California courts ruled that rumor sites like AppleInsider and Powerpage did not have to divulge the source of their stories about unreleased Apple products.
All shield laws exclude certain types of reporting: stories that endanger national security, expose trade secrets, disclose health information, or, murkily, those in which “nondisclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest.” In contested cases, judges overseeing cases covered by shield law must balance these exceptions against “the public interest in compelling disclosure and the public interest in gathering news and maintaining the free flow of information.”
The bill is supported by Newspaper Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others.
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