Cheers to senators Klobuchar, Franken for supporting federal media shield law
Cheers to U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken for their support of a federal media shield law that would prevent reporters from being jailed simply for doing their job.
Mistrust runs deep on both sides of the political divide these days, and everyone benefits when reporters are able to protect sources that provide information that those in power would rather keep hidden.
A free and open press is the best defense against misuse of power in government.
Under the latest proposal, in both civil and criminal cases the government would have to demonstrate that the confidential information it seeks from a journalist is essential to resolving the case -- and that it has exhausted all reasonable alternative sources, according to the Washington Post.
Judges would weigh the public interest in thorough newsgathering against the interest in disclosing the source.
In civil cases, the information seeker must make the case for disclosure. In criminal cases, journalists would have to make the case against disclosure.
The balancing test also covers cases involving leaks of classified information (with the journalist again bearing the burden of proof), unless the information sought would be needed to stop a terrorist attack or "significant and articulable harm to national security," in which case disclosure would be compelled.
As in previous versions, the statute would not protect anyone who is affiliated with a terrorist organization or who has been designated a terrorist by the federal government.
Forty-nine states already have laws or court decisions that shield reporters from being compelled to reveal confidential sources in state court proceedings.
The lack of similar protection in federal cases led media organizations to lobby for the passage of the Free Flow of Information Act.
According to the Minnesota Newspaper Association, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 19 began its markup of the shield bill.
While the committee did not reach a final vote on the bill, the committee made significant progress. Media supporters are particularly pleased that the committee voted down two amendments offered by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz), both of which would have significantly weakened the bill.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was the only Republican to join the Democrats to defeat these weakening amendments.
The committee ended its business meeting with Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) expressing his strong support for enacting a federal media shield bill. He indicated that if the committee cannot favorably report the bill after Thanksgiving, he will support efforts to bypass the committee and bring the bill directly to the Senate floor, which can be done under Senate rules.
We thank Sens. Klobuchar and Franken -- both of whom sit on the Judiciary Committee -- for their support of the federal media shield bill.
If it's approved, the nation will be the stronger for it.