Media Coalition Urges Senators to Support Shield Law

JULY 21, 2008

WASHINGTON – In a letter (PDF file) delivered today to members of the U.S Senate, a coalition of media companies and organizations urged senators to “stand up for the public’s right to know” by supporting S. 2035, the Free Flow of Information Act.

The Free Flow of Information Act is legislation that will protect confidential sources by establishing a uniform standard for obtaining information from reporters in federal court proceedings. There are two versions of the legislation. H.R. 2102 was passed out of the U.S House of Representatives in October on a 398 to 21 vote, and S. 2035 was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 15-4 vote. The legislation provides a qualified privilege with exceptions for national security, personal safety and law enforcement reasons.

In the July 21 letter, the coalition noted that more than 40 reporters have been in danger of being held in contempt to protect their confidential sources, citing two reporters who were sentenced to jail and one reporter who faced fines up to $5,000 a day if she did not reveal her confidential sources.

“Hauling journalists to jail or personally bankrupting them to reveal their confidential sources is not the American way,” the coalition said. “This disturbing trend sends a chilling message to whistleblowers and other confidential sources who come forward at great personal risk to shine a light on government and private sector wrongdoing.

“News organizations prefer to have their sources on the record whenever possible. However, history is replete with examples of news articles critical to the national interest that would have never been written had it not been for the protection of confidential sources, such as: the conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center, the Enron scandal and steroid use in Major League Baseball.

“We respectfully request that the Senate act now to safeguard the public’s right to know. This issue is too important to remain unresolved.”

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia recognize a reporters’ privilege through laws or judicial decisions, but no uniform federal standard exists to govern when confidential source information can be sought from reporters. A reporter (and his or her sources) may receive protection in state court, but find no protection in federal court.