Congress Adds Bloggers To Press Protections

    May 11, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

The US Government is recognizing the citizen blogosphere’s function in the operation of the press by introducing new legislation to offer bloggers the same protections as traditional journalists.

Bloggers had already won the debate with the mainstream media as to whether they can be considered journalists – they’re being dragged into court these days, and breaking major news that has to be acknowledged (Malkin versus Verizon everyone, anyone?).

The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, if passed, will entrench the blogger’s position as potentially a bona fide journalist.

(You may be reluctant to use the phrase bona fide, especially if you are proud of your educational and professional journalism credentials. While it’s true, that makes you more qualified, bloggers are nonetheless merging onto your highway without turn signals, taillights, or navigation systems.)

The FFIA was introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) nearly the same time identical legislation was introduced into the Senate by Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Pete Domenici (R-NM). Cosponsors in the House include Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Mike Pence (R-IN), Howard Coble (R-NC), Greg Walden (R-OR) and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

The legislation protects persons engaged in journalism from being forced to reveal confidential sources. It explicitly states that the law applies to web logs "that engage in journalism" as well.

The bill itself seems to have been prompted by the recent jailing (travesty) of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who refused to reveal the source of information regarding covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

In a statement, Rep. Pence mentions Miller’s prosecution and worries that reporters (and bloggers) need more protection:

We all remember when not long ago a confidential source brought to light abuses at the highest levels of government in the long national nightmare of Watergate. History records that W. Mark Felt never would have come forward without the assurance made to him of confidentiality.

But, thirty years later the press cannot make that assurance to sources, and we face the real danger that there may never be another Deep Throat. The protections provided by the Free Flow of Information Act are necessary so that members of the media can bring forward information to the American public without fear of retribution or prosecution.

Boucher echoes those sentiments:

Typically, the best information about corruption in government or misdeeds in a private organization will come from someone on the inside who feels a responsibility to bring the information to light.

But that person has a lot to lose if his or her identity becomes known.  In many cases, the person responsible for the corruption or the misdeeds can punish the source through dismissal or more subtle forms of punitive action if the source’s identity becomes known. 

And so it is only by assuring anonymity to the source that a reporter can gain access to the information in order to bring it to public scrutiny.

There are exceptions in the legislation as a compromise with the Department of Justice. The new protections will not apply if:

• disclosure is necessary to prevent imminent and actual harm to national security
• disclosure is necessary to prevent imminent death or significant bodily harm
• disclosure is necessary to identify a person who has disclosed a trade secret of
significant value in violation of State or Federal law
• disclosure is necessary to identify a person who has disclosed individually
identifiable health information in violation of Federal law
• disclosure is necessary to identify a person who has disclosed nonpublic personal
financial information of a consumer in violation of Federal law

Even with the caveats, the bill is supported by numerous press associations like the Newspaper Association of America and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

David K. Rehr, president and CEO of the NAB, said Broadcast journalists have a rich history of keeping citizens informed with timely investigative reporting on issues of critical importance to the nation. NAB looks forward to working with Congress to ensure that reporters retain access to confidential sources without fear of prosecutorial reprisal."