Alexandria, VA — Today, the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity sent letters to all 100 U.S. Senators urging them to pass an effective media shield law
“The recent Supreme Court decision not to hear the appeal of New York Times reporter James Risen is yet another compelling reason for Congress to take action on an effective media shield law,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center. “Although Risen should be protected as a journalist under the First Amendment, it’s increasingly clear that the nation’s highest court will not protect journalists like Risen from harassment, subpoenas, and the threat of jail time, simply for doing their job and upholding the ethical standards of the profession.”
FFIA extends much-needed legal protections to journalists, but limits protections to those who fit a very narrow and antiquated definition of a reporter–someone who has been recently employed at an established news outlet. These parameters may have worked in 1996, but today, a great deal of journalism is done online by independent publishers, and the proposed law would allow federal judges to exclude this entire class of reporters from legal protections.
The legislation would extend protections to journalists who have been employees of recognized news organizations for at least one year of the past 20, or three months in the past year, and would also cover some student journalists and freelancers. This definition might have made a little more sense 20 years ago, but the proliferation of new media, blogs, and other web-based publications has rendered the traditional definition of a “journalist” as a newspaper or broadcast employee meaningless.
Trying to define “journalism” as we would “accounting” or some other profession–by salary, education, and place of employment–is futile, because journalism spans a broader spectrum of pursuits than some politicians may care to recognize. Instead of exacerbating this uncertainty, the Senate should turn its focus to clearly defining the actions that constitute journalism, and extend protections to anyone who engages in these actions while they are actively engaged, hinged on the intent to publish.
“A true media shield law would understand that journalism is an act, not a profession, and protect all those who engage in the activities of journalism with the intent to publish–regardless of their employment status,” said Stverak. “This type of forward-thinking legislation would protect James Risen and every other truth-seeking reporter who builds a relationship with a confidential source, and allow for a stronger and more cohesive Fourth Estate.”
You can find a copy of the letter sent to FFIA sponsor Sen. Chuck Schumer here. Similar letters were sent to other Senators.
For media inquiries, contact Michael Moroney at Michael.moroney@
The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity is a leader in non-profit journalism. It was founded in 2009 to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government and provides professional training and assistance with a mission of exposing waste, fraud, and abuse in government.