Federal Shield Bill: Don't Go Dancing in the Streets Just Yet

In announcing the introduction of shield legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 2, 2007, Representative Mike Pence (R-Ind.) commented:

It is not about protecting reporters, it is about protecting the public's right to know.

He's got that right, finally.  The draft bill proposed in the House and Senate (a new Senate bill was introduced on May 18, 2007) drops the noxious language that was in last year's bill that would have excluded all protections for anyone who is not a "salaried employee of or independent contractor for a newspaper, news journal, news agency, book publisher, press association, wire service, radio or television station, network, magazine, Internet news service, or other professional medium or agency."  As the Congressional Research Service noted about the previous bill:

The bill's requirement as to what an entity must publish or operate to be a covered person would limit the bill's coverage so that it apparently would not protect bloggers or others who post on the Internet, except those who write for Webzines (unless a blog were considered a magazine). It would apparently also not protect a freelance reporter who gathered information while having no contract with an entity to do so.

Thankfully, neither the House or Senate version in the 109th Congress made it out of their respective judiciary committees.

The new bill extends its protections to persons "engaged in journalism," which Congress defines as follows:

The term `journalism' means the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.

So now that we have proposed legislation in the House and Senate that no longer excludes everyone who doesn't work at a newspaper, television network, or magazine, are we out of the woods?  Not likely.  We can expect that deals will be brokered and the language will change.  In fact, early drafts of the bill in the 109th Congress were more solicitous to citizen media.  When the bill got into committee, things got worse.

We will be following this bill closely, so you can expect to see a lot of posts on this subject in the future.  In the meantime, we'll be collecting and posting information in the shield legislation resources section of the CMLP Guides & Resources page.


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