House members re-introduce media-shield bill

Friday, February 13, 2009

Editor's note: On Feb. 13 the Senate also re-introduced a federal shield-law bill, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. S. 448 was introduced by Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.; Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Richard Lugar, R-Ind. The Reporters Committee said the bill was similar to a previous one passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007.

Lawmakers will re-examine a federal shield law that would provide protection
for reporters who use confidential sources.

Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Mike Pence, R-Ind., introduced the Free Flow
of Information Act of 2009 in Congress on Feb. 11. The legislation, which has 37
co-sponsors, is the same bill that the House passed in 2007 with 398 votes
before it died in the Senate, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom
of the Press.

Under the measure, H.R. 985,
journalists in most cases could not be compelled to disclose a confidential
source in federal court. Exceptions to the qualified privilege would be national
security, terrorism, prevention of bodily harm, and eyewitness testimony from a
crime scene, according to the Reporters Committee.

“Compelling reporters to testify, and in particular, compelling them to
reveal the identity of their confidential sources, is a detriment to the public
interest,” Pence said in a Feb. 11 news release. “Without the promise of
confidentiality, many important conduits of information about our government
will be shut down.”

Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have shield laws, according to
the release, but there is not a federal standard protecting reporters’

Pence mentioned several reporters who have faced subpoenas in recent years
for refusing to identify confidential sources, such as David Ashenfelter of the
Detroit Free Press, and Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams of the
San Francisco Chronicle.

“They are a few names among many who have been subpoenaed for taking a stand
for the First Amendment and refusing to reveal confidential sources,” Pence said
in his release.

Fainaru-Wada and Williams were involved in the investigation of BALCO, the
Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, which allegedly provided performance enhancers
for professional athletes. When asked to reveal who allowed them to read grand
jury testimony from baseball players such as Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds,
Fainaru-Wada and Williams would not reveal their source. However, according to
the Associated Press, the reporters’ controversy ended when the previously
anonymous source identified himself in 2007.

Ashenfelter currently faces the potential of being held in contempt of court,
according to an Associated Press report yesterday. The reporter refused to name
the source for a 2004 story about an ethics investigation of terrorism
prosecutor Richard Convertino.

The Department of Justice has fought previous shield-law attempts, according
to the Reporters Committee, and former President George W. Bush threatened to
veto any such legislation.

President Barack Obama has stated that he supports a federal shield law.

Courtney Holliday is a senior majoring in economics and public policy at
Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Tags: , , ,