Reporter Shield Legislation Moves Toward Senate Vote

December 10, 2009 12:00 am


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Bill Passes Judiciary Committee

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WASHINGTON – A bill that would help reporters better protect their confidential sources passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee today. The bill, S. 448, The Free Flow of Information Act of 2009, would enact a federal shield law for journalists. The House passed its version of the bill earlier this year. Currently, forty-nine states and the District of Columbia recognize some form of reporters’ privilege, either through statute or common law.

The American Civil Liberties Union strongly supports the concept of a privilege for reporters, and is pleased that the proposal produced by the Committee today – the product of negotiations involving the administration, Senate Judiciary Committee members, and the representatives of the journalism industry – improves on the earlier Senate Judiciary markup by expanding coverage to a broader definition of journalist. Though the bill could have stronger protections for journalists in civil cases and in certain national security circumstances, it provides important assurances to criminal defendants that they will be able to pierce the reporters shield when it’s essential to their defense against prosecution.

The following can be attributed to Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“From revelations about CIA black sites to NSA wiretapping, the press has played a crucial role in uncovering government malfeasance. A free press is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy and we’re encouraged to see the Committee take this important step. Though the changes from the earlier bill may seem minor, they are significant steps toward finding the right level of journalist protection in federal proceedings.

“We’re hopeful that, during conference with the House, further improvements can be achieved. It is critical that all reporters in both the new and traditional media be able to freely speak to confidential sources knowing they can protect their identities and we should do everything we can to guard that relationship. At the same time, we must preserve the critical rights of criminal defendants to defend themselves adequately in court.”

To read the ACLU’s letter to the Senate on S. 448, go to: www.aclu.org/freespeech/gen/40966leg20090909.html

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