The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press supports the passage of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006, a federal reporter’s privilege bill introduced Thursday. Although the bill does not provide an absolute privilege for reporters to protect their confidential sources, it marks the best effort in more than 30 years for Congress to take steps to recognize the importance of providing protection needed by journalists and their confidential sources to fully inform the public.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with Judiciary Committee Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Sen. Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“We appreciate the careful consideration each of the three sponsors gave us over the past year when we voiced our concerns about the all-out assault on confidential sources over the past three years,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish.
The Free Flow of Information Act provides a qualified privilege for journalists to protect confidential sources and information in both civil and criminal cases. The bill’s qualified privilege generally requires requesters of confidential material to show that: they have exhausted all other alternate sources, they have reason to believe the information is relevant, the information is critical to the case, and the public interest in disclosing the confidential source outweighs the public interest in newsgathering and maintaining the free flow of information. This bill, while not adequately addressing all conflicts facing journalists when pressured to reveal sources, represents a valuable step in the right direction for protecting journalists’ sources.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was founded in 1970 in an era when the Johnson and Nixon administration and state prosecutors aggressively pursued reporters in an effort to use them as investigative tools for government. While much has changed since 1970, unfortunately little seems to have changed with regards to the government’s attempts to discover journalists’ sources.
Although in the past it has only supported bills that would give journalists an absolute privilege for confidential sources, the Reporters Committee has determined the political reality of the situation facing journalists today requires reporters to receive as much protection as possible. This bill is only the beginning for reporters, and the Committee will continue to defend the rights of reporters to protect confidential sources in all situations.
A more detailed analysis of the Free Flow of Information Act can be found on the Reporters Committee website, at www.rcfp.org/shields_and_subpoenas/specter.html.