March 31, 2009

Positive Step For First Amendment Rights But Broader Protections Needed, Says ACLUWASHINGTON – A bill aimed at protecting journalists and their readers’ access to information was passed in the House of Representatives by voice vote today. While the bill is a positive step forward in promoting First Amendment rights, it should have protected a wider class of journalists, not just those meeting certain requirements.

 

The Free Flow of Information Act mandates federal court oversight of subpoenas that would force journalists to reveal information gleaned from confidential sources. However, in order to gain the protection of the bill, a reporter must engage in journalism “regularly” and must do so “for a substantial portion of [his or her] livelihood or for substantial financial gain.” The American Civil Liberties Union supported the bill’s passage but noted that it would have preferred stronger protections for those reporters who aren’t engaged in journalism regularly or those who do so without compensation.

 

The following can be attributed Michael Macleod-Ball, ACLU Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel:

 

“Our democracy is in peril when reporters are threatened with prosecution, and subpoenas are used as intimidation tactics. As we’ve seen in the past, a government that operates in the shadows can have a devastating effect on democracy.  An unrestricted press is our best defense against that. Now, as our government continues to fight transparency by actions like improperly hiding behind ‘state secrets’ claims in our courtrooms, journalistic freedom to push for the truth is as necessary as ever.

 

“Though this bill is a strong step in the right direction, we believe its reach is too narrow. This bill should safeguard all journalists, whether or not they pursue the truth for money. The media landscape is shifting greatly and those engaging in new forms of journalism should have similar protections as those working in a newsroom.”

 

To read the ACLU’s letter of support for H.R. 985, the Free Flow of Information Act, go to:

/freespeech/gen/39210leg20090330.html

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