National Press Club

Club Commends House for Passing Reporters' Shield Bill

April 1, 2009

The National Press Club commends the House for passing legislation that would protect reporters from having to reveal their anonymous sources to government officials, except under extraordinary circumstances. The Club urges the Senate to pass this legislation, so President Obama can then sign it into law.

"It is past time that reporters have a national shield against government attempts to learn the identities of anonymous sources," said NPC President Donna Leinwand, a reporter with USA Today. "Unless reporters can withhold the names of sources on occasion, the press cannot do its job as well. If reporters cannot protect sources, it will chill their ability to shine a light on decisions and actions the government is trying to keep secret from the public -- actions about which the public has a right to know."

Shield laws exist in 34 states and the District of Columbia, but there is no national shield. In its absence, judges have increasingly forced journalists to disclose their anonymous sources.

"If allowed to continue, this trend could frighten potential sources who might otherwise provide reporters with critical information the entire society needs to know," Leinwand said.

Last year, the House passed the bill, but it died in the Senate. Leinwand expressed the hope that the Senate would not allow the bill to perish again this year.

"We urge the Senate to pass this bill, which protects the public's right to a free and functioning press, while acknowledging that a reporter's right to protect a source is not unlimited," she said. "By enacting this legislation, the United States would finally say that the free flow of information is a value and a right worth protecting in law."

While the bill (HR 985, S 448) would establish a presumption in favor of protecting sources' names, it also would set forth narrowly defined circumstances in which a judge can compel the disclosure of sources' identities including, for example, when it is the only way to solve a crime or to prevent an act of terrorism.