AAN Urges U.S. Senate to Pass Federal Shield Law

AAN was one of more than seventy media companies and organizations who signed a letter asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass S.987, the Free Flow of Information Act. The bill, which was introduced on May 16 by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has since been joined by 19 co-sponsors. It is likely to be marked up by the Judiciary Committee this Thursday, August 1.

The bill would create a reporter’s privilege applicable in federal proceedings. While latest round of interest from the Senate is attributable to – and much of the media and public focus is on – the seizure of telephone records corresponding to phones owned by the Associated Press and its individual reporters as part of a federal investigation of the leak of classified information, the fight for a shield law goes back more than a decade and would have ramifications for those who never cover the federal government, let alone national security issues.

The House of Representatives has passed a shield law on two separate occasions (in 2007 and 2009). A slightly different bill, HR 1962, was introduced in the House on May 14 by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who has been joined by 44 co-sponsors.

AAN members covering even purely local issues could find themselves forced to testify despite the existence of a strong state shield law or court recognition of a reporter’s privilege if your story somehow results in a federal criminal charge being levied against city or state officials or a federal civil lawsuit arising the subject of (or those quoted in) your story. The Free Flow of Information Act would actually provide a very strong protection for reporter’s asked to testify in civil and even non-national security related criminal matters.

That’s why AAN supports the Free Flow of Information Act. We hope you do too – and that you’ll express that support in the pages of your paper or by simply telling your Senator (especially if he or she is a Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee) or Congressman.

Remember, this is about more than the federal government, more than national security reporting. It can affect you and your reporters on matters you cover every day.

You can contact AAN attorney Kevin M. Goldberg at (703) 812-0462 or goldberg[at]fhhlaw.com if you need more information about the Free Flow of Information Act or how you can help.