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Reporter's shield bill introduced in House

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Confidentiality/Privilege         Feb. 2, 2005    

Reporter’s shield bill introduced in House

  • Journalists would be shielded from being forced to reveal confidential sources under the “Free Flow of Information Act.”

Feb. 2, 2005 — A bill to provide reporters with an absolute privilege against compelled disclosure of their sources was introduced in the House today by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.).

The bill, titled the “Free Flow of Information Act,” also would keep journalists from being subpoenaed to testify or reveal any other information unless all other sources for the information had been exhausted and the material was essential to the underlying court case or investigation.

“Reporters rely on the ability to assure confidentiality to sources in order to deliver news to the public, and the ability of news reporters to assure confidentiality to sources is fundamental to their ability to deliver news on highly contentious matters of broad public interest,” Boucher said in a prepared statement. “Without the promise of confidentiality, many sources would not provide information to reporters and the public would suffer from the resulting lack of information.”

“Compelling reporters to testify and, in particular, compelling them to reveal the identity of their confidential sources is a detriment to the public interest,” Pence said on the House floor while introducing the bill.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate last year, and is expected to reintroduce it in this session.

The Pence-Boucher bill also would protect journalists from having other records held by third parties — such as telephone records held by a phone company or e-mail communications tracked by an Internet service provider — turned over without their knowledge. The bill would require that journalists be notified before such a subpoena is issued and be given an opportunity to contest it before the time the records must be turned over.

The bill would cover publishers, broadcasters and wire services and those who work for them. The definition would include freelance journalists who are working for a publisher or broadcaster, but not those without contracts or those who publish solely on the Web.

Congress has been asked to consider enacting a reporter’s shield law many times, but none has ever passed. The first known proposal was introduced in the Senate in 1929. In the mid-1970s, after the Supreme Court had ruled that the First Amendment does not protect reporters from being compelled to reveal confidential sources and as efforts by the Nixon administration to find reporters’ sources came to light, at least 99 different reporter’s shield laws were introduced in Congress. Currently, thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have shield laws, with Maryland being the first to enact one, in 1898.

(Free Flow of Information Act of 2005, H.R. 581)GL

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© 2005 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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