The Free Flow of Information Act has just cleared the House by a vote of 398-21, but that doesn’t mean President Bush has any interest in signing it. The bill would offer protection of sources and documents to journalists (including professional bloggers) caught up in federal investigations, and could put an end to images of reporters led from court in handcuffs after refusing to testify. The Bush administration sees it as carte blanche to leak government information without penalty, though.
A federal media shield has broad bipartisan support, as the vote indicates, drawing support both from civil liberties advocates and limited-government conservatives who believe the federal government needs a critical eye fixed on it to prevent problems.
The Act was cosponsored by Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Mike Pence (R-IN), who are both concerned that no media shield law currently exists at the federal level. More than thirty states have such laws, and Boucher argued after the vote that the very prevalence of such laws showed just important they were. “Such overwhelming support for assuring the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the state level lays bare the glaring lack of similar protections at the federal level,” he said.
In its current form, the law protects only “a person who, for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in journalism,” which involves the “gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.”
Bloggers? Some certainly seem to be swathed in the bill’s warm orange force field, but it certainly won’t apply to everyone. This definition of journalism, should it become law, will no doubt be parsed at length in court. Recall that when Apple filed its lawsuit against AppleInsider and PowerPage a few years back over a product leak, it claimed that the bloggers were not journalists. In addition, the bill doesn’t seem to offer any protection to amateurs.
The Society of Professional Journalists praised the bill’s passage, calling it “a victory for a free press and for the American people as much as journalists” and also noting that it appears to cover both bloggers and freelancers.
[Learn More: Arstechnica]