SPJ thanks Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing shield law
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists applauds the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for moving forward a federal shield law bill that would protect journalists and help the public receive the information it needs to participate in democracy.
Today the Senate committee voted 13-5 to advance the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, S. 987, to the Senate floor for a full vote.
“This was a monumental step toward protecting journalists from overly aggressive federal agencies who would bankrupt or jail journalists for just doing their jobs,” said David Cuillier, president of SPJ. “Now I hope the Senate and House approve the bill so journalists report without threat of prison.”
The shield law, if approved by Congress, would protect journalists against federal subpoenas demanding the identities of confidential sources or other information. Nearly every state has some shield protections for journalists, but there is no federal statute. Hundreds of journalists face federal subpoenas every year, and some have been jailed for months for their refusal to name their sources.
One of the most significant changes to the bill was a change to the definition of a journalist that SPJ endorsed.
The bill as passed would provide broad protections for “covered journalists,” including freelancers, college journalists, bloggers and people disseminating information for the public good on news websites. It also protects national security, excluding terrorists and groups like WikiLeaks. A key “safety valve” was also added that allows a judge to make the ultimate decision if a journalist who may not otherwise be covered will be extended the protections provided by the legislation.
“Defining ‘journalist’ is tricky business, particularly since anyone has a right to commit acts of journalism in this country,” Cuillier said. “But the reality is government leakers and sources expose wrongdoing by seeking out working journalists, not working baristas or chiropractors. In this country, problems exposed are problems solved, and we are confident that this definition will give journalists the protection they so desperately need.”
SPJ appreciates the leadership of Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in bringing the bill to a vote and the work of Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) in reaching a compromise on the definition of a journalist. The bill will now progress to the full Senate for a vote.
“We hope citizens and journalists everywhere let their congressional representatives know the law will help protect the free flow of information in this nation,” Cuillier said. “We have never been this close to a federal shield law, and it’s time to seal the deal on protecting journalists and democracy.”
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ 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 more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.