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Second shield bill introduced in U.S. Senate

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Confidentiality/Privilege         Feb. 17, 2005    

Second shield bill introduced in U.S. Senate

  • Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) earlier this week introduced a bill that would create a shield law protecting journalists from subpoenas.

Feb. 17, 2005 — A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate early this week would provide journalists with an absolute privilege from being forced to disclose their confidential sources, and a qualified, or limited, privilege protecting compelled disclosure of other newsgathering material.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) as “The Free Speech Protection Act of 2005,” follows by days a similar bill introduced by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). Dodd’s bill includes a more expansive definition of journalists who would be protected by the privilege. Dodd’s bill is identical to a bill he introduced late last year, which was not acted on before Congress adjourned.

Dodd’s bill would provide an absolute privilege from compelled disclosure of sources, regardless of whether they are promised confidentiality or not. The qualified privilege for other information could be overcome if a court finds that the subpoenaed information is “critical and necessary to the resolution of a significant legal issue,” the information could not be obtained by “any alternative means,” and “there is an overriding public interest in the disclosure.”

The Dodd bill would cover any person who “engages in the gathering of news or information” and “has the intent, at the beginning of the process of gathering news or information, to disseminate the news or information to the public.” The Lugar bill, which is identical to a House bill introduced in early February by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.), applies to a more narrowly defined class of journalists, particularly those who work for a print publication or a broadcaster.

(S. 369; The Free Speech Protection Act of 2005)GL

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