Do we all remember the Obama administration’s attempts to send in the FCC to national and local news stations to monitor their activities? There was such an uproar within these news organizations and the public, that the administration and the FCC backed down. All of a sudden, the same administration and the Department of Justice are interested in protecting the rights of the press by pushing through a “Shield Law” to ensure their freedom of speech and the identity of their sources? Will this new law actually protect them or put them in a very small box while throwing bloggers, free lancers and part timers to the wolves?
President Obama has currently called in the service of New York Democrat and Senator Charles Schumer to write and push through a new “Shield Law” that allegedly protects the freedom of the press and their sources. Add in the opinion of Eric Holder at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and input from Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat from California, and everyone and anyone who writes articles, news stories and blogs should be very concerned.
Currently, the Federal government has no shield laws in place to protect journalists from being forced to disclose confidential information or sources in court. Most states have some form of these laws and protections in place in some form or another, but they do vary from state to state, and in most cases are seriously lacking.
What exactly will a Federal Shield Law offer in the form of protection? The current bill does not provide absolute privilege to journalists and has exceptions for when information about leaks to journalists could be used to prevent terrorism attacks and the prevention of deaths and kidnappings. The DOJ guidelines said the records of journalists can only be collected if the reporter is the subject of a criminal investigation. But just last year, the Obama administration and Eric Holder of the DOJ were caught up in the illegal seizing of phone records and emails associated with Fox New’s chief correspondent, James Rosen, in a 2009 investigation into a story concerning U.N. sanctions and North Korea’s nuclear program. It also came under fire for subpoenaing the phone records from 20 Associated Press phone lines used by over 100 reporters. The DOJ sought out the phone records in response to an investigation over who leaked information that caused embarrassment to the administration.
Who will be protected with this new law? Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California said:
“I insist on limiting the legal protection to ‘real reporters’ and not a 17-year-old with his own website. I can’t support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege …or if Edward Snowdon were to sit down and write this stuff, he would have a privilege, I’m not going there,” she said. Feinstein introduced an amendment that defines a ‘covered journalist’ as “someone who gathers and reports news for an entity or service that disseminates news and information.”
This still leaves the question of who the government will deem worthy of protection under the Shield Law when it is given the authority of deciding who and what is a “real” news organization. If you blog on a site that constantly criticizes the administration, will you be protected or just considered a nuisance that needs to be reined in? If you have a website that attracts 3 million followers, are you just a 17-year-old with a website?
The true irony of this law is that even if it passes, Eric Holder and the DOJ would still be able to name any reporter or journalist as a co-conspirator in court, like they did with Mr. Rosen, in order to spy on them. Basically, it gives the government a legitimate reason to “go after” a reporter. If the government gets to use a “national security exception,” who is really protected?
Will the government be given free-reign under this law to seize what it wants, punish those who speak against it or spy on anyone? Will this law impede the ability of a local blogger or free lancer to actually get the story when sources feel their identity is not protected? Does this give news organizations an unfair advantage by giving them the only source protection needed to get the story?
Is this law a true fight for the freedom of the press and freedom of speech or is it just a way for the Obama administration to say it supports their freedom before the upcoming elections to garner votes and distract us from the failure of Obamacare?
Is the Shield Law truly a quest for protecting the press or is it just Uncle Sam, once again, taking control of another aspect of our lives while saying “Bloggers be damned!”by