Monday, February 07, 2005

Reporter's shield bill introduced in House

A bill to provide reporters with an absolute privilege against compelled disclosure of their sources was introduced in the House last week by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.).

The Free Flow of Information Act (H.R. 581) would keep journalists from being subpoenaed to testify or reveal any other information unless all other sources for the information had been exhausted and the material was essential to the underlying court case or investigation.

"Reporters rely on the ability to assure confidentiality to sources in order to deliver news to the public, and the ability of news reporters to assure confidentiality to sources is fundamental to their ability to deliver news on highly contentious matters of broad public interest," Boucher said in a press release. "Without the promise of confidentiality, many sources would not provide information to reporters and the public would suffer from the resulting lack of information."

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate last year, and is expected to reintroduce it in this session.

The bill provides that the federal government may not compel a "covered person" to testify or produce any document in any proceeding or in connection with any issue arising under federal law unless a court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the entity has unsuccessfully attempted to obtain the testimony or document "from all persons from which such testimony or document could reasonably be obtained."

In criminal cases, the government also must show that it has reasonable grounds to believe a crime has occurred and that the testimony or document is essential to the investigation, prosecution or defense.

In non-criminal matters, the government must show that the testimony or document is essential to a dispositive issue of substantial importance.

The law would prohibit the federal government from compelling a reporter to disclose the identify of a confidential source or of any information that could be expected to lead to the identity of a confidential source.

The bill defines "covered person" as "an entity that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic or other means." The entity must also do one of the following:
  • Publish a newspaper, book, magazine or other periodical.
  • Operate a radio or television broadcast station, cable system, or satellite carrier.
  • Operate a news agency or wire service.
The term also covers an employee, contractor or other person who gathers, edits, photographs, records, prepares, or disseminates news or information for such an entity.

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