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Q&A on the Free Flow of Information Act

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From the Summer 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 16. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of…

From the Summer 2007 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 16.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has been involved in the movement to enact a federal shield law. Here, Lucy Dalglish, the Reporters Committee’s executive director, answers questions about the proposed law:

Q: Do you think the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 has a chance to be passed this year?

A: There’s a good chance the bill will pass before the end of the 110th Congress next year. We certainly face an uphill battle, but the sponsors are optimistic. I am heartened about its chances becauseHouse and Senate leadership are on record endorsing it. That didn’t happen last year.

Q: How does this bill compare to proposed shield laws in the past?

A: Last year, we faced opposition from business leaders because they feared those who leaked trade secrets would be unidentifiable. I think we have adequately recognized their concerns in the new bill. We also had staunch opposition from the Justice Department regarding national security issues and “eyewitness” testimony in criminal cases. I think we have also compromised in these areas to an extent that will not do too much damage to the right to protect confidential sources.

Q: How would independent journalists and bloggers fare under this bill?

A: This bill protects individuals who are engaged in journalism and their sources. If a “blogger” or freelance reporter is actively engaged in journalism (i.e. independently collecting information, interpreting it, writing or producing a story and disseminating it to an audience), they will be covered by this bill.It’s important to not get too bogged down in the technology used by journalists. It’s also important to not worry too much about how a reporter is being paid for his or her work. I’m not worried about this issue. Federal courts have not had any problem determining who is a journalist and who is not. This bill would not change a court’s ability to make that determination based on individual circumstances. ES