Editor of End the Lie
The amended version of a new shield law for journalists passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee today, leaving entities like WikiLeaks and independent bloggers unprotected under the law.
Many current and former government officials have expressed contempt for anything even remotely resembling investigative journalism, as seen in the case of a former Obama adviser who argued that Glenn Greenwald is not a journalist.
Even media professionals have expressed similar opinions, with one senior journalist for Time saying he “can’t wait” to justify a drone strike on Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
The definition of who can be considered a “journalist” was heavily debated in the Judiciary Committee this summer.
At the time, multiple senators, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) were concerned that a shield law could be used to protect WikiLeaks and similar groups.
“The world has changed. We’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we’ve ensured that,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at the time, according to Politico. “But there are people who write and do real journalism, in different ways than we’re used to. They should not be excluded from this bill.”
However, the new amendment to the legislation, brokered by Schumer, indeed limits the protection significantly.
Under the bill, a journalist would be defined as an individual who is in contract with or employed by a media outlet for at least one year within the last 20 years or three months within the last five years.
It would also include “someone with a substantial track record of freelancing in the last five years or a student journalist,” according to Politico.
That would leave out anyone who only works as unpaid journalist outside of what the government would consider a traditional “media outlet.”
Indeed, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted:
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) went above and beyond to argue that any journalist who reveals classified information should not be covered:
Mike Masnick of TechDirt notes, “In other words, those who do real investigative journalism and expose government wrongdoing wouldn’t be considered journalists if his amendment had passed (thankfully, it didn’t).”
One positive aspect of the law is that it would protect any person deemed appropriate by a federal judge so long as the newsgathering practices of that person have been consistent with the law.
Unfortunately, that leaves the call up to a federal judge. If the journalist happens to be exposing corruption in the federal court system, that wouldn’t necessarily be an appealing arrangement.
Above all this, there is something even more troubling about the whole proceeding.
As Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) rightly pointed out, the fact that the Senate is even debating who can be considered “real reporters” and “legitimate” journalists should be chilling to us all.
However, Cornyn apparently didn’t have a problem doing just that:
Masnick argues that what finally passed is “not a step in a good direction” and remains quite flawed, though it might have been better than what it could have been.
Indeed, it is quite obviously flawed given that it would remove protection when journalists most need it – in cases involving national security.
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