The House Judiciary Committee yesterday reported out H.R. 985, the Free Flow of Information Act, i.e., the federal media shield, legislation to give journalists legal protection so they do not have to disclose their anonymous sources. As previously noted (here and here), representatives of U.S. business are concerned that a broad media shield will protect the theft of intellectual property, personnel and medical records, and fake whistleblowing designed to serve a political or pecuniary agenda (think labor unions and trial lawyers).
Members of the House Judiciary Committee have been responsive to those concerns, and the current bill reflects last year’s latest House version that provided some protections and avenues for redress to the private sector. Congress just needs to remember that business and the U.S. investment climate have a stake in this debate, and national security issues are not the only ones to consider. (Much of last year’s debate was a proxy political war fought over the Bush Administration’s national security policies and Iraq, so those passions have subsided.)
By coincidence, media shields played a role in last night’s episode of Law & Order, “Anchors Away,” a take-off on the Madoff Ponzi-fund scandal and the internal battles fought on local TV news. A web gossip columnist told the NYC detectives he didn’t have to reveal the e-mailed source of racy photos of a news reporter because he was protected by the media shield — “See, I have my official press credentials from New York City.” The detectives threatened him and he surrendered the e-mail records soon enough. Meanwhile, the Madoff character (the ubiquitous Edward Herrmann) said he didn’t have to repeat his conversations with a reporter out of respect for the media shield. In both incidents, therefore, the media shield was being invoked to prevent an effective murder investigation.
A relatively sophisticated treatment of the issue done in a brief span of time. How rare these days on the otherwise preachy, anti-business L&O.
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