Government secrecy, threat to press examined

Thursday, January 25, 2007

WASHINGTON — A new First Amendment Center report examines the rising conflicts between the federal government and the press over matters of secrecy, leaks and threats to prosecute journalists for espionage or treason for reporting classified information.

Government Secrecy vs. Freedom of the Press, by Geoffrey R. Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, is one in a series of First Reports by the center exploring crucial First Amendment topics. Included in the report is an analysis of the 1918 Espionage Act by Stephen I. Vladeck of the University of Miami School of Law.

“Tensions between the government and the news media aren’t new, but lately the secrecy-vs.-security issue has raised the stakes,” said Gene Policinski, First Amendment Center vice president and executive director. “With the Libby leak trial in full swing and national security on all our minds, this report takes an especially timely look at the history and the law concerning what the press can report.”

The report surveys the limits on what public employees can legally tell the press and public, discusses criminal punishment for publication of classified material, and considers the “who is a journalist?” question in terms of who might be protected from government subpoenas by a so-called “shield law.”

“Our hope is that this report will enrich discussions among elected officials, judges, lawyers, educators, editors, reporters, and, of course, civic-minded Americans,” says the First Amendment Center’s Ronald K.L. Collins in the executive summary.

“Government Secrecy vs. Freedom of the Press” is available at, as well as in individual printed copies, at no charge. Bulk-copy requests may require nominal fees for printing and postage.

Gene Policinski, First Amendment Center vice president/executive director,; 615/727-1303.

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