Definition of 'journalist' scaled back in federal shield bill

Cristina Abello | Newsgathering | Quicklink | September 18, 2009

An amendment to the bipartisan Senate bill that would create a federal shield law for journalists will likely exclude many bloggers and internet journalists, according to the text of the amendment introduced by Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

The amendment to the Free Flow of Information Act was quickly adopted when Sen. Schumer, a co-sponsor, introduced it yesterday at the end of a somewhat contentious Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., both spoke at length during the meeting about their concerns about the bill, particularly with allowing a judge to balance the media's interests with national security interests, and the committee recessed before taking a vote.

Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont released a statement yesterday that expressed his disappointment the committee did not approve the legislation after weeks of discussion.

The amendment is a sharp departure from Schumer's previously preferred definition, which focused on the covered person’s engagement in the practice of journalism rather than employment status.