Media Shield Debate is Vital

July 30, 2008 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – Today the Senate voted against a motion to move forward on much-needed media shield legislation. The American Civil Liberties Union once again voiced its support for strong a law that would protect the public’s right to know and expressed its disappointment that the Senate had allowed partisan politics to trump good policy.

Last year, the House passed the Free Flow of Information Act – a bill that has meaningful protections for journalists and their sources.

“As Congress once again shirks its duty to act on important issues, like passing the first-ever media shield law, the ACLU will continue to push for passage of a meaningful bill,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “There is still plenty of time in the fall to do so. In recent years, we’ve seen a troubling increase in the number of journalists who have been threatened with or served time in jail simply for doing their jobs. With historic stories revealing warrantless wiretapping and the CIA’s use of torture, it’s hard to imagine that our government would ever be held accountable for its actions if it weren’t for a free press and its confidential sources.

“Unfortunately, as we move closer to getting the shield bill passed within a veto-proof margin, the bill has become weaker. We will continue to work with senators to ensure that that this much-needed protection for journalists is not destroyed by partisan and election-year politicking. Many senators agree with the ACLU and its members that there are circumstances when a journalist holds confidential information that should be provided to the courts to protect the national security or prevent acts of terrorism. We believe those circumstances ought to be kept to a bare minimum to keep real protections in place for the kind of journalism that is essential to a free democratic society. When determining whether or not to force a reporter to turn over confidential information or to name a source, courts should be required to balance the public’s right to know and journalists’ rights against the government’s stated interest.

Terri Schroeder, ACLU Senior Lobbyist, added, “We are concerned that recently proposed modifications to this bill threaten to weaken the bill to a point where it will not provide journalists the protection they need. The proposed exceptions would overwhelm the bill.

“We will continue to encourage the Senate leadership and the bill’s sponsors to stand firm against the administration’s relentless effort to gut significant protections in what will be the first federal shield law. No matter how much Senator Specter and others on both sides of the aisle fight for legitimate protections, some will not be happy until the shield bill is ‘compromised’ until it becomes an empty gesture.

“The vote today in no way reflects the true bipartisan support of moving a strong federal shield law before the end of this Congress. The ACLU believes that this vote now affords us the opportunity to continue our work to strengthen the bill and get it to the floor this fall.”

To read the ACLU’s report urging the passage of a federal shield law, go to:

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