October 30th, 2009
04:57 PM ET
10 years ago

Senators, White House reach shield law compromise

Senators, White House reach shield law compromise .

Senators, White House reach shield law compromise .

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Two senators are taking another shot at crafting a law that would protect journalists from having to reveal the identity of their sources.

Democratic Sens. Arlen Specter and Charles Schumer released details Friday of a revised version of the Free Flow of Information Act, which would provide a federal legal protection to reporters who refuse to reveal their confidential sources from being fined or imprisoned.

President Obama came under fire earlier this month for weakening an earlier shield law proposal by modifying a safeguard that would force prosecutors to exhaust all other options before making a reporter testify in court. Under the administration's version at the time, reporters would not be protected if executive branch believed the source's information caused "significant" harm to national security.

Schumer said this version of the bill provides new provisions to help the government protect national security interests while providing legal protection for journalists. More specifically, the government would have to prove to a judge that compelling a reporter to give up a confidential source would help the government in "preventing or mitigating" a future act of terrorism, according to excerpts of the bill.

"This new version preserves a strong protection for reporters interested in protecting their sources, while also making sure that the government can still do the job of protecting its citizens," Schumer said in a statement. "This agreement should expedite this bill's movement through committee and the full Senate."

Obama was also criticized for promoting a shield law for journalists while he was in the Senate, but for taking a step back once he became president. But Specter said this time around, the White House played an active role in the negotiations.

"White House negotiators for President Obama played a decisive role in working out this compromise," Specter said in a statement. "The news media kept up the pressure for years to produce this compromise for a major improvement over current procedures where journalists have been threatened, fined and jailed for appropriately protecting sources."

This bill also extends the protection to cover bloggers and freelance journalists. Currently, 35 states and Washington, D.C. have their own shield laws - but if passed, this bill would provide the first federal protection.

Filed under: Obama administration
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. inofritzn

    Could you imagine the outrage if Bush would have done that? I really have to wonder, after many incidences, if Obama really does want a censored media.

    October 30, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  2. Minnesotan

    So Obama weakens the law a little bit and comes under scrutiny. For freedom of the press issues no doubt. Obama weakens the law in order to maintain National Security importance issues. If the GOP did this they'd be heroes... cuz Obama is doing it he's weakening our freedom of the press. Two standards. One for the GOP and one for the Democrats. Sounds perfectly fair if your a wingnut!

    October 30, 2009 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  3. A concerned veteran

    I understand the fact that people may not be as willing to speak to reporters, if they think their identity could be exposed. Yet, I have to ask, "So what?" People should not be tried in the court of public opinion. They should be tried in court. If a reporter has critical evidence for a case, would it be better to have an injustice in court than to expose their evidence. As Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
    In addition to that, how would we even know that the evidence produced in the media would be correct. Let's say a reporter wrote in their paper that you murdered someone. There is no evidence to convict you in court, but the reporter could simply say that I have a witness that wants to keep their identity hidden. Would that be justice?
    This time I have to admit that I think Obama was right to water down that bill.

    October 30, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  4. phoenix86

    Pssst....pssst...hey CNN....here's a news flash. Obama has signed a law that now allows HIV positive foreigners into the United States.

    Just thought you may want to report on it. Just a thought...

    October 30, 2009 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |