Talking points: S. 2035, Free Flow of Information Act of 2007
On Sept. 27th, I understand the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to mark-up S. 1267, a federal shield bill that has been introduced by long-time shield law advocates Sens. Richard Lugar and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.
- On Sept. 27th, I understand the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to mark-up S. 1267, a federal shield bill that has been introduced by long-time shield law advocates Sens. Richard Lugar and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. I also hear that Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., will offer S. 2035, a compromise bill as an amendment during the committee consideration of S. 1267.
- In addition to having the important support of Chairman Leahy and the original co-sponsors, Sens. Lugar and Dodd, I understand a broad based coalition representing more than fifty media and journalist organizations and companies also support the Specter/Schumer bill.
- While news organizations prefer to have their sources on-the-record whenever possible, there are times when sources will not come forward without the promise of confidentiality. Groundbreaking stories, such as conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center, the Enron scandal and steroid abuse in Major League Baseball, would not have been known to the public – or to the Congress – without confidential sources.
- Over the last few years, more than 40 reporters and media organizations have been subpoenaed or questioned about their confidential sources, their notes, and their work product in criminal and civil cases in federal court. The need for this legislation was underscored again when, on August 13th, a federal judge ordered five more reporters from major news organizations to reveal their confidential sources in the privacy lawsuit filed by Dr. Steven Hatfill against the federal government.
- If sources – including government and private sector whistleblowers – are uncertain whether reporters have adequate protection, they will not come forward and the public dialogue on important issues will diminish.
- While 49 states and the District of Columbia recognize a reporter's privilege through statute or common law, no uniform federal standard exists to govern when testimony can be sought from reporters.
- S. 2035 revises the shield law bill introduced by Sens. Lugar and Dodd with reasonable concessions to address national security and law enforcement concerns expressed by Members. Journalists should be the last resort – not the first stop – for civil litigants and prosecutors attempting to obtain the identity of confidential sources.
- Please vote “Yes” on the Specter/Schumer Amendment when it is offered in the mark-up of S. 1267; and I also encourage you to resist any amendments that would weaken the bill.