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SPJ leaders elated over federal shield law’s passing by Senate Judiciary Committee
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 507-8911
WASHINGTON – Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists commend members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for supporting a bill that would help journalists protect the identities of their confidential sources.
By a 15-2 vote, the committee approved the measure -- which SPJ members are calling the Specter Schumer Lugar Dodd Leahy Bill in recognition of the senators who have championed this important legislation.
“Ultimately, a shield protects the public and the free flow of information that is essential to holding government, corporations, institutions and individuals accountable for their actions," said SPJ National President Christine Tatum, an assistant features editor at The Denver Post. “A shield recognizes that free speech and a free press are cornerstones of this nation’s democracy -- and that people who have sensitive information of vital importance to the general public sometimes deserve special protection when they speak to a journalist.
“Confidential sources informed the nation of Watergate,” Tatum said. “They have tipped off communities to life-threatening pollution coming from companies. They have revealed documents exposing corruption in just about every aspect of life -- including Major League Baseball. Our government should do everything in its power to protect free speech, which is sometimes anonymous speech.”
The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, or the federal shield bill, would protect the public’s right to speak out and promote the people’s right to know. The bill, which calls for a qualified privilege, also would make it easier for journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources.
In the last year, The Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s most broad-based journalism-advocacy organization, has raised more than $30,000 to support a campaign for the passage of a federal shield law. The work to ensure passage of such a law is ongoing.
“The Federal Media Shield Bill is a crucial step for champions of the First Amendment and a free press to ensure that journalists will not be jailed by the government for doing their jobs,” SPJ National President-Elect Clint Brewer said. “Today's vote demonstrated real progress in the fight to allow journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources. The Society of Professional Journalists urges journalists and free speech proponents across this country to get involved, act and communicate with their legislators to let them know a free press is a requirement for a healthy democracy.”
With the committee’s stamp of approval, the bill next heads to the full Senate, where no timetable for a vote has been set.
The shield, as drafted, would apply to newsgatherers who are “regularly” engaged in journalism. As it stands, that definition may include freelancers and bloggers.
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have various statues that protect journalists from being forced to testify or disclose sources and information. No statutory protection currently exists for federal cases.
Senators who voted yes include: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Benjamin Cardin (D- Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), Orin Hatch (R-Utah), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kans.) voted against the bill.
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. For further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.