A federal shield law edged closer to a reality today as a bill which would enact a federal reporter’s privilege, The Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today to move forward to the Senate floor.
A critical part of today’s hearing was an amendment, offered by Senators Diane Feinstein and Richard Durbin, which helped expand the definition of who would be covered under the law. A coalition of media groups, of which NPPA is a member, assisted with the wording.
Under the bill, a person becomes a “covered journalist” by having certain elements of journalistic intent when obtaining the relevant information and by meeting the following criteria:
- Employment: If on the relevant date the person was working (either as a staffer or independent contractor) for an entity or service that disseminates news or information. A covered entity includes, among other things, a newspaper, wire service, news agency, news website, news program, magazine, print or electronic periodical, television or radio broadcast, or motion picture.
- Experience: If the person has worked for one of the entities described above for three consecutive months in the past five years, or for an entire year during the past twenty years.
- Safety net: If for some reason, a person believes that they should be covered but they don’t fall into any of the prior categories, a judge can decide that the person is entitled to the qualified privilege in the interest of justice. This gives the judge discretion to strike a balance between the need for a limited application of the privilege and the ever changing definition of journalist.
NPPA Attorney Mickey Osterreicher attended the hearing and was pleased with the outcome. “Trying to define who is a journalist is a vexing problem. If everyone is entitled to the privilege then upon further scrutiny no one will be entitled to it. On the other hand, if given the state of journalism these days, the media coalition felt that the previous amendment was not inclusive enough and we could not support it.. We all now fully support the bill as amended and we encourage the full senate, as well as the house, to enact it.”
Photographers are expressly included in the definition of “covered journalist.” NPPA has been instrumental in ensuring that the bill covers visual journalists and NPPAs attorneys are satisfied that it does so.
The amendment can be found at this link: