Obama Admin Looks to Revive Bill for Greater Media Protection in Wake of AP Controversy
May 16, 2013 1:47 PM
The Freedom Flow of Information Act would protect journalists from punishment if they decline to identify confidential sources in federal law enforcement proceedings
The Obama administration wants to create a
federal media shield
law by bringing an old bill back to life.
Ed Pagano, President Obama’s Senate liaison, called Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) on Wednesday morning to inquire about a version of a 2009 bill called the Freedom Flow of Information Act.
The Freedom Flow of Information Act would protect journalists from punishment if they decline to identify confidential sources in federal law enforcement proceedings. It would also allow journalists to ask a federal judge to destroy subpoenas for their phone records.
The bill would provide different levels of protection for journalists. Civil cases would receive the greatest protection, criminal cases would be similar (except the reporter would have to try and abolish the subpoena through a “clear and convincing” standard showing that the free flow of information is more important than the needs of law enforcement) and national security cases would lean in favor of the government.
There were a couple of different versions of the bill, but the Obama administration is looking to recover the one supported by Schumer. It was jointly created by the newspaper industry and the White House, and even approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 15-to-4 vote in December 2009. However, issues with Wikileaks exposing confidential government information on the internet put the bill on hold.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder
The decision to bring this bill back to life comes amid controversy surrounding the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ)
subpoena to retrieve calling records
of Associated Press reporters.
DOJ used a subpoena (approved by Deputy James M. Cole) to obtain over 20 phone numbers from the Associated Press, including personal phones of AP editors/columnists and AP business phone numbers in New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Washington.
Furthermore, the DOJ did this without any advance notice. This puts the Associated Press' other private sources at risk and violates freedom of the press.
The reason for the subpoena was related to an article in which an unnamed government official leaked an account of a failed May 2012 bomb plot on an aircraft flying into the U.S. -- which involved the Yemen branch of Al Qaeda.
“This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public’s right to the free flow of information," said Schumer in regards to the Freedom Flow of Information Act. "At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case.”
The New York Times
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