Media Groups Applaud Passage of Federal Shield Bill by House


APRIL 1, 2009

A coalition of media companies and journalism organizations applauds the passage of the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2009” (H.R. 985) yesterday in the House of Representatives. The “media shield” legislation would protect the public’s right to know by setting reasonable standards for when journalists can be compelled to disclose the identities of their confidential sources in federal court. Demonstrating the broad bipartisan support for the measure, the bill passed by a voice vote.

The 72 members of the media coalition appreciate the leadership of the bill’s main sponsors — Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA), Mike Pence (R-IN), John Conyers (D-MI) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) — and applaud all the House members on both sides of the aisle who supported the legislation. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate (S. 448).

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), a lead sponsor of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009, said:

“The passage of the Free Flow of Information Act is a major victory for the public’s right to know and for the ability of reporters to bring important information to light. The assurance of confidentiality that reporters give to sources is fundamental to their ability to deliver news on highly contentious matters of broad public interest such as corruption in government or misdeeds in corporations. Without the promise of confidentiality, many inside sources would not reveal the information, and opportunity to take corrective action to address the harms would not arise.”

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), also a lead sponsor, said:

“Freedom won on the floor of the House of Representatives as Congress reaffirmed our nation’s commitment to a free and independent press.”

The Free Flow of Information Act responds to a real and ongoing problem: Since 2001, five journalists have been sentenced or jailed for refusing to reveal their confidential sources in federal court. Two reporters were sentenced to 18 months in prison and one reporter faced up to $5,000 a day in fines. A 2006 study estimated that in that year alone, 67 federal subpoenas sought confidential material from reporters, with 41 of those subpoenas seeking the name of a confidential source.

Currently, David Ashenfelter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Detroit Free Press reporter, is facing possible jail time and fines for declining to disclose his confidential sources in response to a subpoena issued by a former U.S. attorney, who filed a civil lawsuit against the Justice Department after he was investigated for prosecutorial misconduct in a high-profile terrorism trial.

Whether it is the mistreatment of soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center, safety problems at nuclear power plants or the massive fraud at Enron, groundbreaking stories would have remained unknown both to the public and to Congress without information from confidential sources. Moreover, imprisoning or bankrupting journalists who protect the identities of their sources is not the American way; nor does such a practice help our government’s efforts to promote democracy and freedom of the press around the world.

The Free Flow of Information Act does not give a free pass to the press or their sources. The bill creates a privilege that is qualified, not absolute, by setting reasonable and well-balanced ground rules for when a reporter can be compelled to testify about confidential sources in federal court. The legislation contains exceptions to the privilege if information is needed to prevent or investigate an act of terrorism or other significant harm to national security, to prevent death or substantial bodily harm, to investigate a leak of properly classified information or private health or financial information, and to furnish eyewitness observations of a crime.

Members of the media coalition urge the Senate to act swiftly in passing a media shield bill so that uniform standards of procedure are established for federal proceedings. In June 2008, the Attorneys General from 42 states urged the Senate to pass the Free Flow of Information Act, noting that “an informed citizenry and the preservation of news information sources are vitally important to a free society,” and warning that the lack of federal standards is “producing inconsistency and uncertainty” for reporters and sources and is undermining state shield laws.

NAA is a nonprofit organization representing the $47 billion newspaper industry and more than 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. NAA members include daily newspapers, as well as non-dailies, other print publications and online products. Headquartered near Washington, D.C., in Arlington, Va., the Association focuses on the major issues that affect today’s newspaper industry: public policy/legal matters, advertising revenue growth and audience development across the medium’s broad portfolio of products and digital platforms. Information about NAA and the industry also may be found at

Following is a list of media coalition members and statements of support from selected organizations:

Organizations/Companies Supporting “Free Flow of Information Act of 2009”

ABC Inc.
Advance Publications, Inc.
A.H. Belo Corporation
Allbritton Communications Co.
American Business Media
American Society of Magazine Editors
American Society of Newspaper Editors
The Associated Press
Associated Press Managing Editors Association
Association of Alternative Newsweeklies
Association of American Publishers, Inc.
Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors
The Authors Guild
Belo Corp.
Bloomberg News
California First Amendment Coalition
CBS Corporation
Clear Channel
Coalition of Journalists for Open Government
Copley Press, Inc.
Court TV
Cox Enterprises, Inc.
Cox Newspapers
Cox Television
Daily News, L.P.
Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
E. W. Scripps
First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, Inc.
Freedom Communications, Inc.
Gannett Co., Inc.
Gray Television
Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Inc.
Hearst Corp.
Incisive Media, LLC
Lee Enterprises, Inc.
Magazine Publishers of America
McClatchy Company
The McGraw Hill Companies
Media Law Resource Center
National Association of Broadcasters
National Federation of Press Women
National Geographic Society
National Newspaper Association
National Press Club
National Press Photographers Association
National Public Radio
NBC Universal
New York Times Co.
News Corporation
Newspaper Association of America
Newspaper Guild-CWA
North Jersey Media Group, Inc.
Online News Association
Pennsylvania Newspaper Association
Radio-Television News Directors Association
Raycom Media, Inc.
Regional Reporters Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Reuters America LLC
Society of Professional Journalists
Telemundo Network
Time Inc.
Time Warner Cable Inc.
Time Warner Inc.
Tribune Company
U.S. News & World Report
USA Today
Walt Disney Co.
Washington Post Company
The Washington Times
White House News Photographers Association