Miami Herald — Pass shield law to safeguard a free press
- By: ASNE staff
- On: 07/31/2008 14:18:45
- In: Shield law editorials
The Miami Herald
July 28, 2008
America's democracy is built on a concept of checks and balances between the arms of government. The American people now need the U.S. Senate to provide a very appropriate check on the judicial and executive branches of the federal government
The Miami Herald
July 28, 2008
America's democracy is built on a concept of checks and balances between the arms of government. The American people now need the U.S. Senate to provide a very appropriate check on the judicial and executive branches of the federal government to preserve a free press in this country.
The Free Flow of Information Act, S. 2035, will likely come for a vote in the Senate before its members go home for the campaign season, perhaps as early as today. Senators hold in their collective hands a crucial decision about just how vast we as a country will allow our government's powers to grow. With this vote, Senators have the ability to check the scope of government's growing reach into American life, as well as to make a real policy statement about the importance of civil liberties in modern-day America.
The Free Flow of Information Act, or 'shield bill' as it is known, protects the relationship between journalists and their sources by shielding journalists from overreaching judges and prosecutors who would force them to reveal the identity of their anonymous sources.
The use of anonymous sources is a vital part of the reporting process, and the practice has been the only way some of the biggest stories about government corruption, neglect and corporate abuse have come to light at the hands of the American press. From Watergate to Enron to Walter Reed hospital, story after story shining a light on the ills and wrongs committed in the names of the American people would never have been published without journalists being able to protect anonymous sources.
Now, the government and civil litigants alike are trying to use reporters as the first resort, rather than the last, to discover leaks of information about the workings of our government -- much of it being information every citizen has the right to know. The result is that our country, which should be a beacon for human rights and democracy worldwide, is jailing and fining journalists for informing the public about the business of its government.
If the feelings in the U.S. House of Representatives are any indication, the American people support this limiting of government's powers coast to coast. In October, the House passed its version of the shield bill, H.R. 2102, by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin of 398 to 21. The shield bill is a concept that appeals to the logic of leaders in both parties.
In addition, both parties' presidential nominees, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, have publicly stated they support the shield bill. It speaks volumes that even during a hotly contested election, the standard bearers of both parties agree this legislation is the best thing for America.
At the state level, there is nearly universal support for a shield law. State attorneys general from 41 states through the National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to senators just before Independence Day, reiterating their support for the bill and encouraging Senate leadership to bring it to the floor for a vote. Some 49 states already have their own version of a shield law, either through codified law or judicial precedent.
National-security concerns have also been thoroughly addressed by the sponsors of the bill. The bill is not a free pass for the media, as the law would ensure reasonable ground rules in matters of national security and criminal acts. In such cases, reporters could be compelled in court to reveal their confidential sources.
This legislation is necessary for the future health of American democracy. The citizenry's right to monitor government and report on its actions is a cornerstone of this country. Passing this law is also a major step to keeping the size and scope of government's powers firmly in check. Our elected officials in the U.S. Senate need to provide that balance by voting in favor of the Shield bill.