Revised Federal Shield Bill Clears the House Judiciary Committee

The U.S. House of Representatives has taken an important step forward on the federal shield bill (H.R.2102), which we've discussed in greater detail before. The proposed legislation would protect those "engaging in journalism" from having to testify about or produce documents relating to their work, and from revealing their anonymous sources, except under specified circumstances. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of the bill after two hours of debate, sending it to the House floor for consideration.

The amended bill is not currently available online, but reports (here, here and here) indicate that the new version extends protection to bloggers as long as they derive "financial gain or livelihood" from their journalistic activity. Some in Washington are unhappy because this definition of journalistic activity is too broad, complaining that the "financial gain or livelihood" standard opens the door to anyone whose blog or websites raises even a small amount of revenue through ads. Conversely, some online sources are trumpeting the amended version as a victory for bloggers, with headlines like "House panel approves legal shield for bloggers" and "US law to protect bloggers."

Both sides miss the (fairly) obvious point that the the recent revision narrowed the scope of journalistic activity protected by the law. Don't get me wrong. The revised legislation seems like a good start, and the "financial gain or livelihood" standard may well be broad enough to drive a truck through, providing plenty of room for enterprising bloggers. But the revised bill does potentially (and arbitrarily) exclude those citizen journalists who choose not to have ads or other marketing tools on their sites. We'll reserve judgment for now, monitor the bill closely, and follow up when a copy of the revised bill is available.


Subject Area: