Athens Banner-Herald — Senators are on notice on U.S. 'shield law'
- By: ASNE staff
- On: 08/05/2008 10:18:50
- In: Shield law editorials
Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald
July 31, 2008
If Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson are supportive of legislation that would assist in the uncovering of waste, fraud, abuse and criminal activity in the federal government, it's hard to discern from a vote each of the
Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald
July 31, 2008
If Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson are supportive of legislation that would assist in the uncovering of waste, fraud, abuse and criminal activity in the federal government, it's hard to discern from a vote each of them cast earlier this week.
The two Republicans joined the majority of their GOP colleagues Wednesday in a party-line vote that kept the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 from coming to the Senate floor for debate.
Briefly, the bill would prohibit the federal government from requiring journalists to identify confidential sources. It does, however, include guidelines that could compel journalists to reveal sources in connection with eyewitness observations of a crime; information that could help prevent a death, kidnapping or substantial bodily harm; or information that a federal court determines could help stop an act of terrorism or other national security threat.
Obviously, the news media have a vested interest in seeing the bill passed. Getting a federal “shield law” on the books would keep journalists and their employers from having to deal with subpoenas and the possibility of jail time and significant fines if they don't reveal their sources in federal legal proceedings.
That, however, isn't the primary reason the Free Flow of Information Act is vital legislation that should earn approval in the Senate. A federal shield law would, as this newspaper noted in an editorial earlier this week, “provide protection to the whistleblowers' who are a vital part of keeping the government in check and accountable for its actions.”
A federal shield law would provide whistleblowers with ironclad assurance their names wouldn't be revealed. That assurance would, without a doubt, give them the confidence to know they wouldn't face workplace retribution for bringing incidents of waste, fraud, abuse and criminal conduct to the public's attention.
Following Wednesday's vote, staff members in Isakson's and Chambliss's offices assured this newspaper that both senators favor the bill. A Chambliss spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail that Georgia's senior senator “has some concerns with one provision ... (but) will vote for it should it come to the floor.”
An Isakson spokeswoman said the bill could come to the floor in September, following August's congressional recess, and that Isakson's Wednesday vote wasn't cast in opposition to the bill.
According to their staffers, Isakson and Chambliss voted against bringing the bill to the floor because they wanted the Senate to concentrate on energy policy before the scheduled recess beginning Aug. 9. Maybe that's fair enough. It does, however, raise a question as to how much time the two men and the 40 Republicans and one Democrat who also voted against bringing the bill to the floor think might be required to answer the straightforward question of whether they should make it easier for problems within the federal government to be uncovered.
That proposition is, in fact, so self-evident that a companion bill earned wide bipartisan approval in the House of Representatives in October. Georgia's House delegation, comprising seven Republicans and six Democrats, was unanimous in its support for the measure.
It's disappointing Georgia's two senators couldn't see the wisdom in taking timely action on the Free Flow of Information Act. When Congress returns from its upcoming recess, it will be interesting to see how eager both men are to have the legislation come to the Senate floor, and where they'll stand on it.