December 26, 2005

Federal Shield Law for Reporters

Posted by Eric Jaffa
Friday October 21st 2005, 9:05 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Courts

Under current law, a reporter is sometimes given a choice between revealing a source or going to prison.

The US Senate is holding hearing into whether the law should be changed.

ABC News President David Westin admitted Wednesday that “some information is not being told to the American people, despite the fact that the information is true and it otherwise deserves to be told” because of fear that prosecutors will target reporters as witnesses about the stories they have written about and demand that they reveal their sources. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Westin said that the decisions by some prosecutors to go after journalists “now influences editorial decisions we make at ABC News. More than ever, our decision whether to report a story depends on more than simply whether we are confident of the truth of our story and its importance. Increasingly, we have to consider as well whether — even if we’re sure we’re right and we believe the story worth reporting — it’s worth someone potentially going to jail.”

Westin supported a proposed shield law (Reporter’s Privilege Legislation) that would also limit government’s access to non-published material for use in legal proceedings. He told the committee: “If those with whom we deal were to conclude that we were, in effect, acting as potential fact-finders for the government, they would be far less willing to tell us what they know.”

There can be an abuse of power in this area, whether or not the law is changed.

On the one hand, the government can abuse its power under current law by jailing reporters who don’t deserve it.

On the other hand, Judith Miller deserved to go to jail.

I don’t want government officials to be able to use classified information to smear with impunity.

Or for people in the private sector with access to private information to be able to leak it with impunity.

There should be a risk to a leaker, as there is under current law. That way, the risks and benefits can be balanced by a potential leaker, instead of him of her just having impunity.

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