News reporters need protection from corporate parents

Congress is considering legislation that would protect news reporters from interference from federal investigators.

At a hearing last week on a law that would provide a legal shield for news reporters, Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, advocated the right of journalists to maintain confidential sources. He noted, however, that media is becoming increasingly consolidated and under the control of large corporations, which makes it easier for those in positions power to intimidate reporters.

Conyers chaired a hearing on the “Free Flow of Information Act,” introduced in the House by Reps. Mike Pence, R-IN, and Rick Boucher, D-VA. It would protect reporters from having to reveal confidential sources in criminal and civil court proceedings and would stipulate when courts, special prosecutors and grand juries can compel reporters to testify about secret sources.

Five witnesses, including journalists and attorneys, testified about in favor of the legislation. Lee Levine, a Washington, D.C., media attorney, said the deluge of subpoenas has reached an epidemic proportion and has caused some media outlets to hold back important stories.

William Safire, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the “New York Times” and a former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, said journalists are concerned by the recent rash of subpoenas, jail time and heavy fines for refusing to disclose the identities of confidential sources.

The House bill is identical to a Senate version introduced by Sens. Chris Dodd, D-CN, and Richard Lugar, R-IN. The Bush administration opposes the legislation.