Senators, representatives introduce federal shield law

A bill that would extend a qualified privilege to journalists to protect them from being compelled to reveal their confidential sources was introduced May 2 in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Reps. Rick Boucher, D-VA; John Conyers, D-MI; Mike Pence, R-IN; Howard Coble, R-NC; and John Yarmuth, D-KY; in the House and Sens. Richard Lugar, R-IN; and Christopher Dodd, D-CT; in the Senate introduced the Free Flow of Information Act.

The legislation does not establish unconditional protection. It provides for journalists to be compelled to testify to prevent “imminent and actual harm” to national security or "imminent death or significant bodily harm" to individuals. Journalists would also be required to reveal sources if such testimony could identify someone who has disclosed significant trade secrets or certain financial or medical information, or if a compelling case can be made that there is an overriding public interest in the disclosure.

Information held by telephone companies, Internet Service Providers and other communications providers that could reveal the identity of confidential sources is also protected.

“We enter dangerous territory for a democracy when journalists are hauled into court and threatened with imprisonment if they don't divulge their sources," Dodd said. “This legislation should not be viewed as a privilege for reporters, but as a protection of every American citizen's right to information and their ability to inform themselves.”

The Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) issued a statement applauding the legislation.