Shield laws pass US Senate

A US Senate panel has backed shield laws which would offer more protection to journalists not wanting to divulge their sources.

The legislation advanced by the Senate panel last week, called the “Free Flow of Information Act” sets up a legal process for the subpoenaing of reporters’ records or sources that will now require approval by a judge.

“This legislation ensures that the tough investigative journalism that holds government accountable will be able to thrive,” Senator Charles Schumer said.

The proposed laws come months after it was revealed the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed two months’ worth of Associated Press telephone records and used a search warrant to obtain emails from a Fox News journalist.

The bill was advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 13 to 5 vote after a lengthy debate over the definition of what constitutes a journalist, and who is eligible for protection under the proposed laws.

The version to be debated by Congress will cover journalists who have been employed for one year within the past 20 years, or three months within the past five years.

It will also cover freelancers who had been active and published within the last five years, student journalists, and individuals who a federal judge has deemed a “covered journalist”.

Groups such as WikiLeaks, blogs and social media would not be protected.

The legislation also includes exceptions whereby someone would not be protected in the case of “classified leak cases when information would prevent or mitigate an act of terrorism or harm to national security”.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press welcomed the legislation.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but it goes a long way to ensuring that reporters will be protected from subpoenas for their confidential information and sources,” legal defence director Gregg Leslie said.

“It tries to be as inclusive of all types of reporters as possible, and is not nearly as limited in that area as previous attempts at a federal shield law have been.”

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