Senators introduce bill to protect journalists from revealing sources

A group of powerful senators introduced a bill last week that would protect journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources for their stories.

Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN), Arlen Specter (R-PA), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) May 18 introduced the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Dodd acknowledged that while the bill isn’t perfect, it “makes many important and substantial steps in the effort to protect the free flow of information and balance the legitimate and often compelling interest in law enforcement.”

Under the legislation, a federal prosecutor, including independent prosecutors or agencies, in a criminal case may not compel a journalist or employer of a journalist to reveal protected information unless a court finds by clear and convincing evidence that:

  • the prosecutor has “exhausted alternative sources;”
  • the prosecutor tailors the subpoena as much as possible;
  • the prosecutor gives reasonable and timely notice for a demand for documents;
  • the public interest favors disclosure;
  • the information sought is “critical” to the investigation;
  • and there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has occurred.

The legislation also provides that a journalist or a journalist’s employer must disclose information needed to prevent an act of terrorism or harm to the national security.

The Radio-Television News Director Association responded favorably to the bill. A statement from association president Barbara Cochran pointed out that the legislation “acknowledges that protecting a reporter’s right to confidential sources is essential to preserving the public’s right to know and to hold government accountable for its actions.” Cochran urged the Congress to pass the legislation.