The Radio-Television News Directors Association Tuesday criticized a court decision compelling two print reporters to testify about their sources, saying that it underscored the need for a federal shield law.
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time must testify to a grand jury, or face possible jail time, on their sources in stories about the leak of the name of CIA employee Valerie Plame to the media.
“The courts are making it clear that reporters cannot rely on First Amendment protections,” said Barbara Cochran, RTNDA president. “This decision underscores the need for federal legislators to enact a shield law to establish reasonable standards for compelling and shielding disclosure of sources and information."
The government itself has recognized the importance of protecting journalists from unreasonable subpoenas.
In its own internal guidelines, the Justice Department says, “The prosecutorial power of the government should not be used in such a way that it impairs a reporter's responsibility to cover as broadly as possible controversial public issues. This policy statement is thus intended to provide protection for the news media from forms of compulsory process, whether civil or criminal, which might impair the news-gathering function.”
While reporters don't have an unqualified exemption to ignore subpoenas, journalists argue that the government also should not be allowed to invoke “compelling interest” at will to criminalize investigative journalism.
Bills introducing a shield law have been introduced in Congress.