Latest Attempt to Pass Federal Shield Law Fails

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The latest attempt to get a federal shield law for journalists passed has failed once again with the conclusion of the 111th Congress in December. The coalition of media groups pushing for the shield law says it may be years before they get another chance.

A shield law would protect journalists from being forced to identify confidential sources in federal court. Support for a federal law began in 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is no constitutional privilege for journalists to protect their sources. Judith Miller's incarceration in 2005 for refusing to name the government source who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame was another important motivator. But proponents for the law say that it is not only about protecting journalists, but to allow anonymous sources and whistle blowers the security to speak out without worrying about their jobs or families.

The bill, supported by President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, passed in the House in the spring of 2009 with broad, bipartisan support. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved it soon after, but it never reached the Senate floor. The hectic lame duck session of Congress kept the bill from ever moving out of committee.

The bill's failure is largely blamed on disagreement over who would be considered a journalist, and fears that organizations like WikiLeaks would be protected.

"I think by the third WikiLeaks disclosure, at that point, we were trying to take the temperature of folks on the Hill," says Sophia Cope, legislative counsel for the Newspaper Association of America. "They were like, 'No way.'"

The bill would have had an exception for national security matters, and protection would have been restricted to traditional journalists with ties to media organizations - a compromise that media groups said they could live with. But the information released by WikiLeaks was the final nail in the coffin, despite the fact that the bill would not have covered a WikiLeaks-type of organization, and language was added to specifically prevent large information dumps like the kind released by WikiLeaks from being protected.

With a new, Republican Congress, the chances for a shield law being passed are low. But media groups say that they will not give up, despite the odds.

Photo credit:


Post a Comment

  © Blogger template On The Road by 2009

Back to TOP