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SPJ Gives Support to Federal Shield Law Legislation

For Immediate Release

David Carlson, President, (352) 846-0171 or carlson@spj.org

Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211 or bking@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists endorses legislation introduced today in the United States Senate that, if passed, would establish a federal shield law providing significant protections to journalists seeking to protect confidential sources or information.

The Free Flow of Information Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and co-sponsored by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), would provide much-needed cohesion in reporter’s privilege law in the federal courts and bring the federal law in line with the safeguards many state laws provide. Currently, 31 states and the District of Columbia have shield laws, and 18 other states have recognized a reporter’s privilege as a result of judicial decisions, but there is no uniform set of standards governing when testimony can be sought from reporters.

“This is important legislation that all Americans should support,” said SPJ president David Carlson, Cox/Palm Beach Post professor and director of the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida. “It’s not just about journalists or journalism. It’s about checks and balances in a democratic society.”

SPJ is one of more than 35 organizations and companies to have expressed support for the Act. Other endorsers include the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Associated Press, the Newspaper Association of America, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The legislation provides a qualified privilege for confidential sources and information in the context of both civil and criminal proceedings, and sets out standards that must be met before the party seeking the source or information can overcome the privilege. Generally speaking, except in a few narrow situations, a party seeking confidential sources or information must demonstrate that (1) it has exhausted alternative sources for the information; (2) nondisclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest after balancing the public interests in compelling disclosure against the public interest in newsgathering; and (3) the information sought is directly relevant or critical to the matter being litigated.

Over the past 14 months, SPJ has worked with other supporters of federal shield law legislation and members of Congress to craft a law that offers powerful protection for journalism in its varied forms. In the coming months, the Society will continue to make its case with the public, who are the true beneficiaries of an effective shield law.

“A free and independent press is critical to a democratic society,” Carlson said. “It's one of the few checks of the federal system. When reporters face jail time for not revealing sources, the system is out of balance, and democracy is in peril."

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.

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