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This committee is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public's access to documents and the government's business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted.

Home > Freedom of Information > Struggling to Report: Federal Shield Law > Facts, experts, resources and more

Shield Law Facts

History of the Federal Shield Law
Journalism Organizations that Support a Federal Shield Law

The proposed Free Flow of Information Act, also known as the federal shield law, protects journalists from having to reveal their sources and documents. The law, if enacted, maintains vital information for citizens and ensures journalists and confidential informants won’t be silenced due to the threat of federal prosecution or subpoena.

Under the proposed law, the federal government must prove to a judge that the information sought outweighs the journalist’s need to keep confidential information.

For too long, journalists have been prosecuted and incarcerated for refusing to hand over source names and information they have gathered while on the job. Many have lost countless dollars and resources fighting the battle. Others have lost days of their lives in jail.

The Society of Professional Journalists, with other news organizations and press advocates, strongly encourages the passage of this law and will continue to push for its approval.


It’s time to raise the shield!

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia provide journalists with a “reporter’s privilege,” protecting them if a state government seeks to make him or her reveal confidential information, including the identity of a source. Some states have statutes, known as “shield laws,” and some provide the protection through case law.

There is absolutely no protection at the federal level. It’s time to pass a federal shield law. Learn more and pitch in right here.


The Bills
H.R.1962 — Free Flow of Information Act of 2013

S.987 — A bill to maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclosure of information by certain persons connected with the news media

Amended language for S.987 [Sept. 12, 2013]

Resources
Arguments in favor of the shield law
Shield law FAQ
History: The struggle since 2006
Quotable experts
Journalism groups backing a federal shield
RCFP guide to state shield laws [RCFP.org]

How you can help
Sample email messages and letters
Contact info for U.S. Senators

In the news
‘Covered Journalists’: Federal shield law language a good compromise
Freedom of the Prez: On shame and shield law
62 Civil Liberties, Press Freedom and Public Interest Groups Demand Answers on Targeting of Journalists
Protect reporters, and protect everyone
Counterpoint: Media deserve guarantee of federal shield law

FOI FYI Blog: Shield law posts

History of the Federal Shield Law

— May 2013: H.R.1962 Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 and S.987 introduced
— September 2011: H.R. 2932 Free Flow of Information Act of 2011 introduced, an updated version of the original H.R. 2092
— July 2011: SPJ supports Jesse Eisinger in New York Shield Law case
— 2010: S.B. 448 loses support and dies
— October 2010: SPJ President sends a follow-up letter urging senators to vote on proposed S.B. 448
— July 2010: SPJ President sends letter to senators urging them to pass a federal shield law
— December 10, 2009: SPJ celebrates passage of shield law bill from committee
— November 4, 2009: SPJ supports shield law compromise
— October 6, 2009: SPJ President criticizes federal shield law changes in editorial
— October 2, 2009: SPJ is outraged by Obama administration changes to shield law bill
— September 17, 2009: SPJ encourages Committee to move quickly on federal shield law
— April 1, 2009: Shield law passes House, shifts focus to less-certain Senate
— February 11, 2009: SPJ encourages journalists to support shield law after intro in Congress
— August 11, 2008: Opponents to shield law off target
— July 31, 2008: SPJ disappointed that shield law stalls in Senate
— July 10, 2008: SPJ leaders take Shield Law case to the Hill
— October 5, 2007: Panel debates need for fed shield law that would protect journalists, sources
— October 4, 2007: SPJ leaders elated over shield law’s passing by Senate Judiciary Committee
— August 1, 2007: SPJ commends committee’s approval of federal shield law
— May 18, 2006: SPJ gives support to Federal Shield Law legislation


Shield Law Experts and Resources

Quotable experts

David Cuillier, SPJ president, director University of Arizona School of Journalism
David Cuillier was SPJ FOI chair for four years, a former newspaper reporter and editor, and currently a media law scholar.
Email

Sonny Albarado, 2012-13 SPJ president, City/Projects Editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Sonny Albarado is a strong advocate for press rights and will say so!
Email

RonNell Andersen Jones, associate professor, Brigham Young University Law School
RonNell Andersen Jones, a former newspaper reporter and editor, has conducted extensive scientific surveys of journalists to demonstrate how prevalent government agencies threaten journalists with jailing to get at their sources.
Email | Additional information

Anthony Fargo, associate professor, Indiana University School of Journalism
Anthony Fargo, a former journalist, is an expert on the legal history of reporter’s privilege, including the key U.S. Supreme Court case, Branzburg v. Hayes.
Email | Additional information

Toni Locy, Reynolds Professor of Legal Reporting, Washington and Lee University
Toni Locy is uniquely qualified to discuss the issue because she was held in contempt of court by a federal judge who tried to fine her into personal bankruptcy for protecting sources who provided information she used in covering the FBI’s flawed investigation into 2001's deadly anthrax attacks.
412-651-8460 | Email | Additional information

Lucy Dalglish, Dean, University of Maryland College of Journalism
Lucy Dalglish was a journalist and director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, where she helped defend more than 20 journalists threatened with jailing and bankruptcy because of overzealous federal government officials.
Email | Additional information

Resources

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press state breakdownLink
Electronic Frontier Foundation Reporter’s Privilege Guide for Bloggers
Student Press Law Center Reporter’s Privilege Guide for Student Media
Media Law Resource Center — Reporter’s Privilege


Journalism Organizations that Support a Federal Shield Law

Society of Professional Journalists
American Society of Newspaper Editors
American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
Asian American Journalists Association
Associated Press Managing Editors
Investigative Reporters and Editors
National Association of Black Journalists
National Association of Hispanic Journalists
National Press Photographers Association
Newspaper Association of America
The Newspaper Guild
New York Financial Writers Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Radio Television Digital News Association
UNITY: Journalists of Color

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