SPJ President Kevin Z. Smith visited Washington, D.C. today in a final effort to push for passage of S. 448, the Free Flow of Information Act. He delivered letters to key senators, urging them to allow a final vote on the bill. SPJ is a leader among dozens of media organization and journalism groups fighting for a federal shield law to protect journalists from disclosing their confidential sources and notes when compelled by federal subpoena.
The letter is below. Read more about SPJís shield law efforts here.
October 1, 2010
Dear Honorable Senator:
As this 111th Congressional session winds down, you have a number of tough decisions before you. While I canít help you in your struggles to deal with tax cuts, health care issues and economic stimulus plans, I can give you insight into a Senate bill that, if passed, will go a long way toward addressing fundamental First Amendment issues in our nation.
Senate Bill 448, the Free Flow of Information Act, will provide the necessary protection journalists need to do their important job of providing vital information to an informed citizenry. Right now that basic press function is in jeopardy.
Journalists who report on federal issues using anonymous sources are increasingly being compelled to appear in federal courtrooms and threatened with fines and imprisonment if they donít reveal names. The results are catastrophic. With each threat the press is shying away from covering the very stories that matter to Americans. Rather than face tough, costly legal battles, many in the media are passing on stories. Imagine our country today without Watergate, the Pentagon Papers or the steroid scandal in Major League Baseball. Most recently, think how federal workers giving information anonymously to The Associated Press helped uncover the real problems on the now-infamous oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.
Senate Bill 448 doesnít just provide protection for sources. It doesnít just protect journalists from court punishment. It goes much further. It protects the rights of the American people who want to know what their government is doing.
Currently, this bill is being stalled over the definition of a journalist. We feel that more than enough time has been given to this issue, and holding it only ensures its defeat. Many journalism groups, including the Society of Professional Journalists, have willingly made concessions on needed national security issues. And concessions have been made repeatedly on defining a journalist. This bill has the backing of the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, the House and we know the majority of the Senate. It is ready to go to the Senate floor.
SPJ represents more than 8,000 journalists in our nation, and we have been an ardent supporter of this bill and others like it for five years. As the largest journalism organization in the U.S., we have a duty to stand up and speak out for press rights. Denying passage of this bill when so many people have already voiced support for it would be an injustice.
Please encourage your fellow senators to move S. 448 to the floor in the coming weeks and support it with your vote.
These days Americans are demanding more from their government. While this bill does not remedy health care, taxes or the economy, it does ensure that Americans remain informed about the process and that journalists and sources are not unduly punished for assisting in that process.
Kevin Z. Smith
President, Society of Professional JournalistsRead more about SPJís shield law efforts here