RTNDA Musters the Troops For Shield Law


The Radio-Television Digital News Association is calling on its members to contact their legislators to push for passage of a federal shield law.

After much negotiation with Republicans and the Obama administration, bill backers secured passage of the Free flow of Information Act in the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it has yet to get a vote in the Senate and time is flying.

The Bill protects journalists and their sources from prosecutorial overreach, and would be a federal protection mirroring laws or legal precedent in virtually every state.

"The federal shield law would protect journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources and documents, and would ensure that information vital to an informed citizenry will not be silenced or otherwise withheld because of the threat of federal prosecution or subpoena," said RTDNA in a call to members Wednesday. "Essentially, the shield law would prohibit prosecutors from forcing a journalist to reveal a source when a court determines that the need for the source's identity is outweighed by the public's interest in the free flow of information."

RTDNA says the time to act is now if the bill is to be passed before the close of this session. It lists key senators and asks members to contact them July 28 and ask them to vote for closure on the bill, which would end debate and allow it to be brought to the floor. That would take 60 votes, rather than a simple majority.
In addition, it wants members to write editorials, send letters and get face time with members of congress over the August recess.

Among the suggested talking points: 1) The bill is supported by over 70 media companies; the law would provide "robust protection" for national security (one of the Obama administration's concerns about the bill); 2) "The bill contains extremely broad exceptions when the government seeks information that could thwart a terrorist attack or otherwise prevent harm to national security," according to RTDNA; 3) "Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the importance of a vibrant, free press in our democratic society."

Journalist groups have been trying for decades to get a shield law through Congress, but this was thought to have been the best chance yet of finally pushing it over the finish line.