Federal Shield Law is Passed by House of Representatives

Step brings federal protection of confidential sources one step closer to enactment

OCT. 16, 2007

Sheila Owens, NAA

WASHINGTON — Passage of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 (H.R. 2102) by the U.S. House of Representatives on a 398 to 21 vote was applauded by more than 50 media companies and organizations today. With the instrumental leadership of Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), a federal shield bill is one step closer to reality, ensuring that reporters don’t face federal prosecution for refusing to identify confidential sources except in special circumstances.

The need for a federal shield law is long overdue. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia offer some degree of shield law protection, while an additional 16 have seen judicial decisions supporting the safeguarding of confidential sources. At the federal level, however, there is currently no shield law protection, as evidenced by a wave of federal subpoenas that have threatened to (and in some cases actually have) put reporters behind bars.

John F. Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, issued the following statement on behalf of the media coalition:

“The coalition would like to express its most sincere gratitude to the champions of this critical legislation: Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.). Because of their perseverance and the dedication of all lawmakers who supported this federal shield law, Congress moves one step closer to guaranteeing that the public’s right to a free flow of news and information will continue unimpeded.”

“The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 reflects reasonable compromises that address law enforcement and national security concerns while protecting the rights of reporters to safeguard the identity of sources that need to remain confidential. By enacting a federal shield law, the Congress can ensure that all parties – journalists, sources, prosecutors, civil litigants and courts alike — can rely on consistent and well-articulated standards of procedure.”

This coalition of media companies and organizations urges the Senate to act swiftly in passing the Free Flow of Information Act.

A list of supporting media companies and organizations is included below. [See also what coalition members are saying about the shield law below.]

For more information about the legislation, please visit www.naa.org/Public-Policy.aspx.

Media Companies / Organizations Supporting H.R. 2102 — “Free Flow of Information Act of 2007”: ABC Inc.
Advance Publications, Inc.
Allbritton Communications Company
American Society of Magazine Editors
American Society of Newspaper Editors
The Associated Press
The Associated Press Managing Editors Association
Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
Association of American Publishers
Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors
Belo Corp.
Bloomberg News
Clear Channel
Coalition of Journalists for Open Government
The Copley Press, Inc.
Court TV
Cox Television
Cox Newspapers
Cox Enterprises, Inc
Daily News, L.P
First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, Inc.
Freedom Communications, Inc.
Gannett Co., Inc.
Gray Television
Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc.
Hearst Corporation
Magazine Publishers of America
The McClatchy Company
The McGraw-Hill Companies
Media Law Resource Center
National Association of Broadcasters
National Federation of Press Women
The National Geographic Society
National Newspaper Association
National Press Club
National Press Photographers Association
National Public Radio
NBC Universal
News Corporation
Newspaper Association of America
The Newspaper Guild-CWA
The New York Times Company
North Jersey Media Group Inc.
Online News Association
Radio-Television News Directors Association
Raycom Media, Inc.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reuters America LLC
E. W. Scripps
Society of Professional Journalists
Time Inc.
Time Warner
Tribune Company
The Walt Disney Company
The Washington Post
U.S. News & World Report


David Westin, President, ABC News
“Freedom of the press is just a slogan unless reporters (and ultimately the public) have access to sources of critical information. Time and again some of our most important stories have come from confidential sources. This bill addresses the need for the federal government to recognize the public’s right to know, just as 49 of the states have recognized in their individual laws for some time. It will make clear to journalists, to courts, and to sources alike that confidentiality is protected and will give all courts uniform standards for defining that protection.”

Tony Overman, President, National Press Photographers Association:
“Joshua Wolf, a freelance photographer in California spent 226 days in prison this year (longer than any other journalist in U.S. history) for his refusal to turn over his raw video of an incident involving the San Francisco police. He would have normally been protected by California’s strong shield law until prosecutors did an end-run around those protections by bringing the case in federal court. This long overdue measure will help provide the same protection for journalists in federal court as they have in almost every state court in the United States.”

Gilbert Bailon, President, American Society of Newspaper Editors; Publisher and Editor, Al Día (Dallas, TX):
“The First Amendment guarantee of a free press is threatened by recent trends in the courts. We support this legislation’s balanced approach to a federal shield law because it clarifies the role of all journalists and will allow us to better serve the public’s right to know.”

Richard Karpel, Executive Director, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies:
“When the news is bad, it’s only natural that public officials try to hide it. Consequently, confidential sources are often the only means to uncovering the truth. By protecting those sources, this bill helps the American public hold its government accountable.”

Nina Link, President and CEO of the Magazine Publishers of America:
“We commend the House of Representatives for passing the Free Flow of Information Act. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has come together to help ensure that the American public will receive vital information essential to our democracy through the protection of confidential sources.”

Sandy Baron, Executive Director, Media Law Resource Center:
“The Media Law Resource Center commends the House of Representatives members who voted for the Free Flow of Information Act for understanding that protecting the ability of journalists to gather information ultimately protects the public’s ability to receive that information — often on the actions of government and other powerful institutions in our communities and nation. The Free Flow of Information Act would bring some measure of harmony between the federal law and legal systems and those of the majority of states that currently limit compelled disclosure and testimony by journalists.”

David Rehr, President and CEO, National Association of Broadcasters:
“NAB salutes the U.S. House of Representatives for taking this important step in keeping the public informed through quality investigative reporting. Broadcast journalists take seriously their role in providing viewers and listeners with important information that at times can carry significant risk to reporters and their sources. NAB appreciates Representatives Boucher, Conyers and Pence for their dedication to this critical legislation and we will continue working with both chambers of Congress to ensure that journalists can do their job without fear of revealing confidential sources.”

Jerry Zremski, President, The National Press Club, Washington, D.C.; Washington Bureau Chief, The Buffalo News:
“We are thrilled that the House today passed the Free Flow of Information Act. This is the most concrete step yet toward giving journalists and their sources the legal protection they need to tell important stories that the public needs to know. Without a federal shield law, journalists and their sources are increasingly at risk from overzealous prosecutors — meaning would-be government whistleblowers may be increasingly wary of working with journalists to expose wrongdoing. A federal shield law will go a long way toward correcting that imbalance, thereby making it far more likely that journalists will be able to tell stories that hold government accountable for its actions.”

Steve Haynes, President, National Newspaper Association; Publisher, Oberlin Herald:
“Media of all sizes need to be concerned about being able to protect sources and shield themselves from fishing expeditions in litigation, which can be costly and disruptive. For small media, unnecessary subpoenas can bring a newsroom to a complete halt.”

John F. Sturm, President and CEO, Newspaper Association of America:
“Today’s passage of the Free Flow of Information Act in the House is truly remarkable day for the public that relies on the free flow of news and information and those who work to report it. With more than 40 journalists and media organizations questioned or subpoenaed for their confidential sources in the past few years, the need for a federal shield law is long overdue — and we have taken a big step today to fill this void. We applaud the dedication of all the lawmakers who supported this measure, particularly its champions Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA.) and Mike Pence (R-IN) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI).”

Linda Foley, President, Newspaper Guild-CWA:
“Working journalists need to be able to provide protection of sources at all levels in order for our democratic system of government to function properly.”

Barbara Cochran, President, Radio-Television News Directors Association:
“Broadcast investigative reporter Jim Taricani spent four months under house arrest rather than reveal the source of his report on corruption in the government of Providence, R.I. Without a federal shield law, reporters like Taricani may spend time in confinement when they should be in newsrooms. RTNDA applauds Chairman Conyers, Reps. Boucher and Pence and other House members for taking action to safeguard journalists’ ability to obtain important information for the public from confidential sources.”

Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:
“This is truly one of those ‘pinch me’ moments. The Reporters Committee was founded 37 years ago on the issue of protecting sources and the information they provide to the public. We’re very proud to be part of the effort by the nation’s media organizations to ensure the free flow of information to the public.”

Clint Brewer, President, Society of Professional Journalists, Executive Editor, The City Paper (Nashville, Tennessee):
“A free press is a cornerstone of the American democracy. The ability for journalists to protect sources has contributed to some of the most important journalistic works in our country’s history, including many stories revealing corruption in the federal government. The Society of Professional Journalists vigorously supports a federal shield law.”