Proposed Federal Shield Law: Who Would It Really Cover?

OpenCongress
This OpenCongress widget shows what’s happening with the proposed federal shield law.

(NOTE: I’ve cross-posted this from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

Today the U.S. Congress is slated to act on H.R. 2102, a proposed federal “shield law” which would give journalists the right to refuse to testify about (or turn over to the government) information collected through the newsgathering process, or about the sources who supplied that information.

Not surprisingly, the White House has vowed to veto it, citing a fear of increased leaks. Here’s the full statement from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which has been circulated to reporters but not yet posted on OMB’s site.

If you want to follow the action on this bill, OpenCongress is a great resource. In addition to its main page on H.R. 2102, OpenCongress also offers feeds for status updates, news coverage, and blog coverage of this bill. And, of course, you can generate a widget for your site that shows the current status (see right).

What I found striking about this bill is that the version introduced in the House on May 2 defined the people the shield law would protect as those “engaged in journalism and includes a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such covered person.”

This language, which is identical to the Senate version of the bill (S. 1267), would seem to cover people acting independently of news organizations — including freelancers, student journalists, citizen journalists, and bloggers who perform acts of citizen journalism.

However, something happened in committee. The version reported in the House (which I believe is what Congress is considering today) has changed that definition in a small but crucial way that I think is a dealbreaker.

Here’s what it says now…

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