03.06.08

Leahy, Specter Urge Senate Action On Media Shield Bill

WASHINGTON (Thursday, March 6, 2008) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) today urged party leaders to schedule floor consideration of legislation to enact a qualified federal media shield law, which has been stalled in the Senate since last year.  The Free Flow of Information Act was favorably reported to the Senate by the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 4, 2007.

Leahy and Specter sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requesting time for floor debate on the legislation, which would establish a federal qualified reporters’ privilege to protect the exchange of information between journalists and confidential sources.  The House of Representatives last year passed similar legislation by a veto-proof majority.  Opposition from the Department of Justice and the White House has stymied Senate consideration of the bill.  Leahy and Specter have been urging the Senate to take up the measure.

“The bipartisan majority support in the House and in the Senate Judiciary Committee demonstrates that federal shield legislation deserves floor time and we urge you to promptly take up the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, S.2035,” wrote Leahy and Specter.

Last month, a former USA Today reporter was held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal confidential sources cited in two articles written in 2002, and she is now facing fines of $500 to $5,000 a day.  In recent years, dozens of reporters have been questioned by federal prosecutors about their sources. 

The legislation is supported by a wide array of media organizations including the Newspaper Association of America, the Associated Press, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, The New York Times Company, The Washington Post, the New England Press Association, the Vermont Press Association, and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.

 

The text of the Leahy-Specter letter follows.  A PDF is available here.

 

March 6, 2008

 

The Honorable Harry Reid

Majority Leader

United States Senate

S-221, U.S. Capitol

Washington, D.C.  20510

 

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Republican Leader

United States Senate

S- 230, U.S. Capitol

Washington, D.C.  20510

 

Dear Senators Reid and McConnell:

 

            We write to request that you schedule floor time for Senate consideration of S.2035, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007.  The bill creates a clear and uniform standard applicable to federal entities, including federal courts, regarding compelled disclosure by journalists of their confidential sources.  We need to protect the relationship between reporters and their sources and to strike a proper balance between (a) the need to maintain the free flow of information to journalists and, through a free press, to the public, and (b) the  need for effective law enforcement and national security. 

 

            Last month, Toni Locy, a professor of journalism at West Virginia University and formerUSA Today reporter, was held in contempt of court for refusing to divulge her confidential sources for two articles she wrote in 2002.  Ms. Locy faces penalties of $500 to $5,000 a day; she may have to pay the fines personally if there is a court order prohibiting payment of the fines by her former employer USA Today.  Scores of reporters have been questioned by federal prosecutors about their sources, notes and reports in recent years, and there is definitely a chilling effect as a result. 

 

            On October 4, 2007, the Committee on the Judiciary favorably reported S.2035 by a bipartisan vote of 15-4.  On October 16, 2007, the House passed a similar bill, H.R.2102, by a veto-proof majority of 398-21.  The bipartisan majority support in the House and in the Senate Judiciary Committee demonstrates that federal shield legislation deserves floor time and we urge you to promptly take up the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, S. 2035.

 

            We thank you for the consideration of this request and we look forward to working with you on federal shield legislation in the near future. 

 

                                                                        Sincerely,  

 

 

_____________________                                                      _____________________

PATRICK LEAHY                                                                 ARLEN SPECTER

CHAIRMAN                                                                           RANKING MEMBER

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693

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