U.S Senator Baldwin Co-Sponsors Media Shield Bill to Provide Legal Protections to Journalists
Bipartisan Legislation Would Require Court to Weigh Public Interest in Newsgathering against Needs of Law Enforcement
WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today announced her support for a bipartisan media shield bill that offers legal protections to journalists engaged in newsgathering activities. Baldwin co-sponsored the same legislation when she served in the House of Representatives.
The Free Flow of Information Act (S.987), also known as the media shield bill, is sponsored by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) who recently announced he was re-introducing the measure with bipartisan support. The bill was last considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009, when it passed with support from both parties, 14-5.
The legislation, which has earned support from both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate, protects journalists and their employers from having to reveal information, including source identity, which a reporter obtains under a promise of confidentiality and in the course of carrying out newsgathering functions. In addition, it requires, in most cases, a court to apply a balancing test before compelling disclosure. The bill has been endorsed by both the Obama administration and the newspaper industry.
“This media shield law strikes the necessary balance between the public's right to the free flow of information and national security needs,” Baldwin said, “It protects journalists and establishes a fair and deliberate process that provides a legal framework for determining the limited circumstances under which protected information can be subject to compelled disclosure in court.”
A summary of the bill appears below.
Summary of Free Flow of Information Act of 2013
Protects journalists and their employers from having to reveal information, including source identity, which a reporter obtains under a promise of confidentiality and in the course of carrying out newsgathering functions.
Establishes a legal framework for determining the limited circumstances under which such protected information can be subject to compelled disclosure in court.
Provides no absolute privilege for journalists. In every case, a party (usually the Government) will have to argue to a court its need for the information at issue.
Requires, in most cases, a court to apply a balancing test before compelling disclosure (public interest in disclosure versus public interest in newsgathering).
Delineates exceptions when the journalist has no privilege against the disclosure of information:
In classified leak cases: When information would prevent or mitigate an act of terrorism or harm to national security.
In regular confidential information cases (where a classified leak isn’t at issue): When information would prevent or mitigate, or identify a perpetrator of, an act of terrorism or harm to national security; and
In non-national security cases:
When the information would prevent or mitigate death, kidnapping, and bodily harm (Section 4);
When information was obtained by the journalist through observation or perpetration of a criminal act (Section 3), other than an act of leaking.
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