National Freedom of Information Coalition
Protecting Your Right to Open Government

Gene Policinski: Tough decision ahead for all on ‘shield law’ definition

From We’re all facing a tough decision by Congress later this year — and it’s not about the federal budget or national health care policy.

A question that ultimately will affect us all involves a bill with the innocuous name “Free Flow of Information Act.” In other words, it’s a proposal to create — for the first time legislatively — a national “shield law” aimed at protecting news sources and the confidential information they have provided from having to be disclosed by journalists facing a subpoena or federal grand jury.

Note that that description, unlike most, starts out by referring to the protection that sources get under the proposal, not the benefit that derives to journalists.

From a First Amendment view, that’s about the only way one feel comfortable with such a law. The major hurdle that remains is that the measure must include a definition of a “journalist,” which by-definition must exclude some of our fellow citizens or it would read “everyone.” But the 45 words of the First Amendment have no modifier in front of “press” in forbidding government from restraining or censoring what it publishes.

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