ASNE endorses shield law
The board of directors of the American Society of Newspaper Editors today endorsed the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006, which would establish a national shield law to protect reporters from being forced to reveal confidential sou
The board of directors of the American Society of Newspaper Editors today endorsed the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006, which would establish a national shield law to protect reporters from being forced to reveal confidential sources of information. Thirty-one states already have shield laws.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and co-sponsored by Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). It would provide a qualified privilege to protect reporters from being compelled to testify about the identity of a source or produce documents. Under the bill, a reporter could be compelled to testify only if clear criteria are met. Among critical criteria in criminal cases are that all other sources for the information be exhausted and the information be central to the case.
The criteria in the bill closely mirror protections in state shield laws.
"Stories of government corruption will go untold, critical reporting on intelligence matters will wither, countless threats to the public health and safety will go unreported unless reporters can protect their sources," said Dave Zeeck, ASNE president, and executive editor of The News-Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.
"American democracy can't function unless there is a free flow of information that arms citizens with the facts. It's important that reporters be given the greatest freedom possible to dig up those facts, without fear of a prosecutor's subpoena," said David Westphal, co-chair of the ASNE Freedom of Information Committee and Washington Bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.
ASNE's board, in making its endorsement of the legislation, reserved its prerogative to withdraw support if the bill is amended in ways that would be detrimental to the practice of journalism.
The American Society of Newspaper Editors, with about 750 members, is the principal organization of American newspaper editors. It is active in a number of areas, including open government, freedom of the press, journalism credibility and ethics, newsroom management, diversity and readership.