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SPJ urges swift action by Senate panel on federal shield law to protect journalists

Coalition pushes key committee leaders to act quickly on bipartisan PRESS Act 

Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, SPJ National President, ashanti.blaize@gmail.com
Nadia Gordon, SPJ Communications Coordinator, ngordon@hq@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists  joins more than 120 other signatories, including journalism organizations, First Amendment advocacy groups, attorneys and law professors, urging leaders of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to prioritize action on long-stalled legislation creating a federal shield law to protect journalist-source confidentiality.

The letter urges U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham, respectively the judiciary committee’s chair and ranking member, to schedule a markup of the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act (PRESS Act, S.2074).The PRESS Act is a bipartisan federal shield law that would protect journalist-source confidentiality, subject to common-sense exceptions, such as cases involving terrorism, other serious emergencies, or journalists suspected of crimes. In January, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the legislation.

“Federal legislation shielding journalists from compelled disclosure of their sources is long overdue,” said SPJ National President, Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins. “SPJ urges the Judiciary Committee to act on this urgently needed legislation without delay.”

It is imperative that the PRESS Act be signed into law, considering court decisions against journalists such as Catherine Herridge, who was held in contempt of court for refusing to divulge her sources for reporting for Fox News about an online school’s alleged ties to the Chinese military.

The bill includes “a broad definition of ‘covered journalist’ that includes anyone who regularly gathers and reports news. This recognizes the evolving nature of the profession and affords the same protections to freelance journalists and independent outlets that are enjoyed by the likes of the Wall Street Journal and Fox News,” the letter states.

Additionally, the PRESS Act would prevent future executive branch officials from targeting journalists and their sources. “Subject to a few sensible exceptions, the bill would prohibit most subpoenas of reporters’ phone and email records, a tactic used by Democratic and Republican administrations to attempt to uncover reporters’ sources. It would also protect local journalists who report on matters unrelated to politics,” the letter states.

Similar shield bills passed in the House in 2007 and 2022, but none were as strong as the PRESS Act.

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