State Laws/Franchising

No Action On Shield Law....Again

11/05/2009 1:31 PM Eastern

Armed with a compromise bill that has the approval of the Attorney General broadcasters and the co-sponsors of the bill, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT.) was once again unable to consider the Free Flow of Information Act, which grants qualified protection for journalists and their sources from government overreach.

That version, and one already passed by voice vote in the House March 31, was scheduled to be considered at the regular Thursday business meeting, but was again tabled after legislators on both sides said they needed to take a harder look at the new language, according to a Judiciary Committee spokesperson.

The bill has been on the calendar for consideration since April, but ran into a series of delays including some filibustering by Republicans concerned it provided too much protection at the expense of the government's ability pursue wrongdoers, then by the vetting of Supreme Court nominee--now Justice--Sonia Sotomayor, and most recently by the Obama administration's concerns over allowing judges to arbitrate cases in which the government asserts thje public's interest in compelling disclosure trumps that of protecting sources of the free flow of information.

The compromise would preserve the judge's role in adjudicating government requests for info, which the administration had trouble with, but has carveouts for preventing threats of bodily harm and threats to national security, including terrorism.

The new bill language also enlarges the shield to cover bloggers and freelancers by changing the definition of covered journalist from whether they are being paid to whether they are gathering and reporting news.

The bill will likely be rescheduled on the Nov. 19 business meeting, said the spokesperson--there is no meeting next week.

September