House Approves Shield Law for Journalists
Despite veto threat, Walden backs bill to protect public's right to know
The House of Representatives today took a major step toward protecting the fourth estate by passing a shield law for journalists in the Free Flow of Information Act, H.R. 2102. Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) was an original co-sponsor of the legislation.
"As a graduate of the School of Journalism at the University of Oregon and an owner of radio stations with award-winning journalists, I am a firm believer in the need for journalists to protect their confidential sources in order to have a vibrant and free press," Walden said. "Jailing reporters to force them to divulge their sources has a chilling effect on whistle-blowers and investigative reporting. It has no place in a free society. A vote for the Free Flow of Information Act is a vote to protect citizens and taxpayers from an ominous and oppressive government that seeks to silence its critics. In America, such government power would threaten our freedom and our informed democracy. I hope the Senate will act quickly to send this important legislation to the President's desk."
Focus on the lack of a federal shield law sharpened when New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed and Time reporter Matthew Cooper was threatened with jail for not revealing their sources to a federal investigator in 2005. Thirty-two states (including Oregon) and the District of Columbia have enacted shield laws for journalists.
The Free Flow of Information Act applies to a journalist "who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain." It would not include terrorist organizations or agents of foreign powers.
The bill strikes an appropriate balance between law enforcement officials and the public's right to know. It incorporates measures to safeguard our national security by providing that the disclosure of a leaker's identity can be compelled whenever the leak has caused "significant and articulable harm to the national security."
The White House today issued a statement indicating that senior advisors to the President would recommend he veto the bill in its current form.