On July 13, 2010, SPJ President Kevin Smith visited Capitol Hill and delivered letters to senators regarding the federal shield law. SB 448, the Free Flow of Information Act, has passed the House of Representatives and currently awaits a vote in the Senate. It is crucial in these last few months of the 111th Congress to finally pass the bill that will protect journalists, their confidential sources and ultimately the publicís right to know pertinent information.
A copy of the letter is below:
Dear Honorable Senator:
As the 111th Congress draws to a close next month, we understand that many legislative matters remain before you. The Society of Professional Journalists appreciates your commitment to many of these matters.
We believe that one bill, in particular, needs your attention and support: the Free Flow of Information Act (SB 448). This bill was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in March after more than 19 weeks of bi-partisan review. The bill simply provides journalists with a baseline protection from unreasonable prosecutorial pressure. SB 448 stops prosecutors from forcing a journalist to reveal a source when a court determines that the need for the sourceís identity is outweighed by the interest in the free flow of information to the public.
SB 448 has been thoroughly vetted and has now received full support from the Obama administration, the U.S. Attorney General, and many bipartisan supporters within your Chamber.
For five years the Society of Professional Journalists, the oldest and largest journalism organization in the nation, has worked diligently toward passing this bill into law. The proposalís thrust is to provide journalists at a national level with the same level of protection afforded to us by statute or common law in an overwhelming majority of states. This has been an arduous process, and journalists have made concessions to craft a bill that addresses national security concerns while still granting journalists and their sources protection from unreasonable government intrusion. Now, fully supported, this bill needs to move through the Senate.
When this bill passes into law, the victory will be one for the American people and their interest in open and honest government.
More than a month ago, The Associated Press quoted an anonymous source in the Minerals Management Services who revealed impropriates leading up to the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. A shield law would ensure that the AP reporters who alerted the nation and Congress of these mishaps and misdeeds could not be compelled to reveal their protected sources before a federal judge unless the exceptions to the law provide otherwise. Without such protection, fewer and fewer people will be willing to come forward and speak out for fear of being identified and targeted for reprisal, and stories of national value will never have a chance to be told.
As president of the Society of Professional Journalists, I ask for your support of SB 448 to keep the free flow of information a part of our democratic way of life. The bill ensures transparency and accountability in our government and most powerful institutions for the betterment of the American people.
This is not just about protecting journalists from imprisonment, or ensuring that people come forward with information. It is about assuring the American people that stories of national importance will continue to be written and heard through the American press and to preserve the principle of an informed electorate on which this country was founded.
Kevin Z. Smith
President, Society of Professional Journalists