Ithaca Journal – New shield law: Protections for the press benefit public
The Ithaca (N.Y.) Journal
Oct. 23, 2007
The United States House of Representatives did journalists and the public right when it recently passed its version of the Free Flow of Information Act 2007. Soon, the Senate is supposed to pass its version of the measure overwhelmingly
The Ithaca (N.Y.) Journal
Oct. 23, 2007
The United States House of Representatives did journalists and the public right when it recently passed its version of the Free Flow of Information Act 2007. Soon, the Senate is supposed to pass its version of the measure overwhelmingly - and with enough votes to override any presidential veto.
The legislation will give journalists the ability to keep the names of news sources secret from federal prosecutors and others. Journalists say the law is needed to keep information flowing to a free press. However, the U.S. Attorney's office has said a federal shield law will cut off the means for prosecutors to investigate serious crimes. It also argues there is a national security risk associated with such a shield law.
The Senate proposal will not "shield" journalists if they are eyewitnesses to crimes or participants when crimes are committed - this is a common sense approach to protecting the media and public safety. The Senate proposal, in our view, covers any concerns expressed by federal prosecutors.
The First Amendment Center's Gene Policinski wrote on this page on Oct. 11 how no shield law "is or will be a perfect solution to the concerns raised by either a free press or government officials charged with protecting public safety and national security." He's right. There will always be those gray areas where a court will need to step in and define whether the shield law's protections apply.
But allowing journalists to conduct business with protections, which are then rightfully extended to sources, allows the media to report information on how government is conducting its business - both good and bad. And the free press is thereby guaranteed the safeguards extended to it in the First Amendment, with a legal process set up to determine just how far those protections extend. The equation ultimately benefits the public.
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