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This committee is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public's access to documents and the government's business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted.

Home > Freedom of Information > Struggling to Report: Federal Shield Law > Arguments in favor of the shield law

Arguments in favor of the shield law

The Free Flow of Information Act would provide protection to reporters and their sources at a federal level. Here are some of the arguments in favor of passing the shield law:

Federal protection. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia provide journalists with a “reporter’s privilege,” protecting them if a state government seeks to make him or her reveal confidential information, including the identity of a source. There is absolutely no protection at the federal level.

It’s time to raise the shield!

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia provide journalists with a “reporter’s privilege,” protecting them if a state government seeks to make him or her reveal confidential information, including the identity of a source. Some states have statutes, known as “shield laws,” and some provide the protection through case law.

There is absolutely no protection at the federal level. It’s time to pass a federal shield law. Learn more and pitch in right here.

The Bills
H.R.1962 — Free Flow of Information Act of 2013

S.987 — A bill to maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclosure of information by certain persons connected with the news media

Amended language for S.987 [Sept. 12, 2013]

Arguments in favor of the shield law
Shield law FAQ
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Quotable experts
Journalism groups backing a federal shield
RCFP guide to state shield laws []

How you can help
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In the news
‘Covered Journalists’: Federal shield law language a good compromise
Freedom of the Prez: On shame and shield law
62 Civil Liberties, Press Freedom and Public Interest Groups Demand Answers on Targeting of Journalists
Protect reporters, and protect everyone
Counterpoint: Media deserve guarantee of federal shield law

FOI FYI Blog: Shield law posts

The shield law is for the public, and for democracy. While shield laws protect journalists, the key purpose is to protect sources’ identities and their ability to get important information to the public via journalists. Without this protection, insiders are less likely to go to the press with information that needs to be told about corruption and abuse of power

Hundreds of journalists are targeted every year. Brigham Young University law professor RonNell Andersen Jones, in a 2009 study, noted that federal agencies issue about 800 subpoenas to news organizations annually, with half of those targeting confidential sources. Journalists have noted that the number of federal subpoenas continues to grow.

Alternatives for journalists have severe ramifications. Some journalists served with federal subpoenas have spent significant time in jail for refusing to turn over confidential information. Josh Wolf spent 226 days in jail to protect his raw video from confiscation. A federal judge attempted to personally bankrupt Toni Locy, formerly of USA Today.

The bill puts the onus on the federal government. Under the proposed federal shield law, if a subpoena or court order seeking protected information has been issued to a news organization, the federal government must give the journalist notice and a chance to be heard. A judge holds a hearing, and the government must prove that its need for the information sought.

An outside referee would decide whether the law applies. If there is disagreement about whether the shield law applies, a judge can decide the issue.

The bill has a broad definition of “journalist”. Previous efforts to pass a federal shield law have foundered on efforts to define “journalist.” The compromise bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in September is an attempt to address concerns about the definition and is sufficiently broad. The proposed law uses the term “covered journalist,” which includes reporters at newspapers and television stations, college journalists, freelancers, bloggers (particularly those with traditional legacy media experience in the past 20 years), anyone working for a “news website” and anyone else gathering and disseminating information for the public good.

The bill includes safeguards for national security. The federal shield law bill specifically excludes terrorists and does not apply to groups such as Wikileaks.

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