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Passage of federal shield law in jeopardy

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From the Fall 2010 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 17. The U.S. government’s use of a…

From the Fall 2010 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 17.

The U.S. government’s use of a The Wall Street Journal reporter’s testimony in its prosecution of former Monster Worldwide Inc. executive James Treacy highlights the need for a federal shield law to protect journalists from court subpoenas, according to news media advocates.

Despite significant steps in that direction over the past year, however, passage will most likely occur, if at all this congressional session, during the lame duck session, said Paul Boyle, the vice president of governmental affairs for the Newspaper Association of America, a driving force behind the shield bill.

“We are going to double our efforts for the next four weeks; we’ve made so many concessions on this legislation, so the thought is that it won’t get better in the next Congress because they will start tweaking where this one left off,” said Boyle, adding that the legislation’s chance for success in the next session, assuming it is not passed during the lame duck one, is largely dependent on the make-up of Congress next year.

Although the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved the shield bill, S. 448, in December 2009, it has sat in the full Senate as senators struggle to define who would qualify as bona fide journalists entitled to protect their confidential sources. That definition is “still somewhat fluid,” Boyle said.

After website Wikileaks dumped more than 90,000 sensitive classified Afghanistan war reports collected by the U.S. government onto its site last July, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., drafted an amendment to the shield law legislation that would exclude websites such as Wikileaks from the pending law.