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SPJ commends committee’s approval of Federal Shield Law


For Immediate Release:

Christine Tatum, President. (303) 881-8702, ctatum@spj.org
Joe Skeel (317) 927-8000, ext. 214, jskeel@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s most broad-based journalism advocacy organization, commends the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s decision to vote in favor of an amended federal shield law on Wednesday.

With the committee's stamp of approval, the bill next heads to the full House, where no timetable for a vote has been set. Before the bill is introduced to the full House, co-sponsors Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said they would work to better define who is a “journalist” to appease some of the bill's opponents.

According to the bill winning committee approval Wednesday, the shield would apply to newsgatherers who derive “financial gain or livelihood” from journalistic activity. As it stands, that definition would include freelancers and advertising-supported bloggers.

“While it's important to distinguish responsible journalists from casual bloggers, the more narrow the language defining who is a journalist, the less impact the bill will have,” said Christine Tatum, SPJ's national president and an assistant features editor at The Denver Post. “I encourage Mr. Pence and Mr. Boucher to define 'journalist' as broadly as possible, and I offer SPJ's assistance in crafting this new and crucially important language.”

The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, or Federal Media Shield Bill, would protect the public’s right to speak out and promote the public's right to know. The bill would make it easier for journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources. The bill does, however, allow for exceptions concerning national security, bodily harm or death, trade secrets and personal health or financial information.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have various statues that protect journalists from being forced to testify or disclose sources and information. But no protection exists for federal cases.

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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