Shield Bill Impasse Appears Resolved; Bloggers To Get Protection

Could pave way for a vote on the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee

A new version of a federal shield law has been released by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Arlen Specter (D-PA) that apparently breaks the logjam and could pave the way for a vote on the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill provides journalists a limited protection from having to give up their sources to the feds.

Among the changes to the Free Flow of Information Act are preserving a public interest balancing test in most cases, though with a carveout for "leaks with the potential for prospective harms. It also removes a requirement that those covered by the shield be salaried employees or independent contractors for a particular media organization. That should mean the bill will cover freelancers and bloggers.

According to the senators, who co-sponsored the bill, and independently confirmed by a broadcast source with knowledge of the negotiations, the language is acceptable to both the White House and media organizations.

The revisions are, according to a joint announcement from both senators' offices:

1. "[I]in cases where the government is attempting to compel the disclosure of information, continues to require a demonstration that the information is "essential" to the prosecution or defense in criminal cases;

2 [P]reserv[ing] a public interest balancing test for criminal and civil cases and in most leak cases (other than leaks with the potential for prospective harms).

3. [R]evisit[ing] the change made to the definition of journalist in the September 24 Manager’s Amendment by removing the requirement that the journalist be a salaried employee or independent contractor for a media organization.  This should permit freelance authors to be covered, and it also provides the potential for journalists publishing on blogs to be covered as well.  "