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Home > SPJ News > SPJ leaders: Opponents to shield law off target

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SPJ leaders: Opponents to shield law off target

For Immediate Release
8/11/2008


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Contact:
Clint Brewer, President, (615) 301-9229, cbrewer@spj.org
Scott Leadingham, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211, sleadingham@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists remain hopeful a federal shield law will pass when Congress reconvenes following the August recess, despite opposition to certain components of the bill.

SPJ leaders are bothered by opponents’ latest attempts to deter Senators’ support of this important piece of legislation. Members of the opposition include a group of former national security and law enforcement professionals who have tried to urge legislators to reject the shield law citing concerns about who would be covered by the law and specific risks to national security.

“We are advocating for the bill as it is currently written,” SPJ President Clint Brewer said. “It clearly addresses both of the oppositions’ concerns in its present state.”

In response to who constitutes a journalist under the federal shield law, the bill contains a clear definition that provides coverage for anyone who “regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports or publishes information of public interest” for dissemination to the public.

The bill also invites no risks to national security, as opponents suggest. Specifically, Section 5 states that journalists must be ordered to reveal confidential sources and documents if, by a preponderance of evidence, a federal court finds that the protected information would assist in preventing a specific case of terrorism against the United States or significant harm to national security that would outweigh the public interest in newsgathering and maintaining a free flow of information to citizens.

“National security is not something SPJ or fellow federal shield law supporters are ignoring in the effort to protect journalists’ confidential information and sources,” Brewer said. “This bill addresses the opposition’s concerns about national security. However, it would require law enforcement officials and prosecutors to exhaust all other investigative avenues before turning to journalists.

“I suspect this is the part they are opposed to, because they would no longer be able to count on journalists to do the investigative work for them.”

The Society and its leaders encourage journalists across the country to contact their senators and voice their support for the bill. Contact information can be found at Senate.gov.

To see a list of those who voted late July against bringing the bill to the Senate floor for a vote, see the roll call

A federal shield law would give journalists the right to refuse to reveal information and sources obtained during the newsgathering process with a few notable exceptions, including where national security is at issue. The qualified privilege would be similar to those afforded to lawyers and their clients, clergy and their penitents and psychotherapists and their patients. To read more about SPJ’s research and past releases about the federal shield law, visit http://spj.org/shieldlaw-stall.asp.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

-END-

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