Saturday, October 31, 2009

Federal shield law compromise reached

The White House and senators reached a compromise on a federal shield law to protect journalists who refuse to reveal their sources, but limited its application to cases involving federal criminal prosecutions and national security.

Decisions between forcing testimony and granting shield to journalists receiving subpoenas are treated differently, depending on whether the subpoena is brought in a civil trial or a criminal trial.

In a civil trial, journalists are the most protected--the litigant would be forced to demonstrate why their need for the information would serve a greater public interest than the journalist's need to protect their source or the information they obtained.

In a criminal trial, the journalists would be forced to demonstrate by a higher standard--"clear and convincing" is the language used--that their need to protect confidential sources or information outweighs the public interest to be gained by providing testimony.

Journalists who get subpoenas for information that could prevent a future act of terrorism or other specific harm to national security would get no balancing protection, and would be forced to testify.

The compromise also expands the definition of those covered, eliminating previous language that required those individuals to be employed by or to have a contract with a news organization.

Under the new language, protection would be available to people who have the "primary disseminate to the public news" from the "inception of the news gathering process."

Consequently, coverage would be available to student journalists, freelance authors, book authors, people who write for local news outlets without pay and potentially, to many bloggers.

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