Democrats may be shield sticking point


Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have been stalling approval of the S. 448, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009. A report from Nieman Journalism Lab notes that chief opponents John Kyl (R-AZ) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) may have unlikely cavalry support on the way in the form of two Democratic senators.

The senators are Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), who fear that the definition of a journalist in the current bill is too broad. They would tighten it to professionals on the payroll of “a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical.”

On the outs would be student journalists, amateurs, including bloggers, and freelancers who are not in possession of a contract.

The fear is that a terrorist or criminal could avoid government intervention in certain situations simply by declaring journalist status. Others have tried to assuage the duo’s fears, saying that national security safeguards are built into the bill and that use of the shield by criminals or terrorists is far-fetched.

Nieman Journalism noted that it is quite possible the bill would pass without either Feinstein’s or Durbin’s support, since many Republicans support it.

RBR-TVBR observation: Internet news sources and freelance journalists are increasingly important components of the journalism mix and deserve protection – especially in an economy that is shedding traditional print and broadcast reporters and thrusting them into the internet and freelance world whether they want to go there or not.

Further, it is difficult to see how a criminal could rob a bank, or a terrorist could blow up a building, and then escape the long arm of the law by pretending to be a journalist and claiming to protect an anonymous source.