National Press Club

National Press Club: Pressure on reporter shows need for shield law

June 4, 2014 | By John M. Donnelly |

In the wake of a court decision that could spell trouble for a New York Times reporter who is trying to protect the identity of a confidential source, the National Press Club urged Congress to quickly pass legislation that would enable journalists to protect their sources.

The Supreme Court announced this week that it would not take up James Risen's appeal of a United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling that he must divulge the identity of a source for a chapter of his 2006 book, "State of War."

"Government pressure to force James Risen to divulge a confidential source's identity demonstrates the need for federal legislation that would give reporters qualified protection from such tactics," Myron Belkind, president of the National Press Club, said Wednesday.

The Supreme Court's decision raises the prospect that Risen could be held in contempt of court if he continues to refuse to reveal the source's identity. He could face fines or jail time.

"Eric Holder reportedly told a gathering of media professionals last month that, as long as he is attorney general, 'no reporter will go to jail for doing his job,'" said Belkind. "We hope Mr. Holder follows through on that commitment and that his successors do the same. But stronger protection than a person's word is needed. We are hopeful that Risen's case will help spur Congress and the president to enact a shield law that would balance prosecutors' needs against the public's right to information that often only anonymous sources can provide."

The National Press Club supports legislation pending in the House and Senate (HR 1962 and S 987), which would protect reporters from orders to reveal a source's name under certain circumstances.