National Press Club

Federal Shield Law

May 2, 2007

The National Press Club today joined more than 40 journalism organizations and media companies in endorsing a federal shield law that was introduced today in the House of Representatives.

"As we mark World Press Freedom Day on Thursday, introduction of a federal shield law could not be more timely," said NPC President Jerry Zremski. "Reporters around the globe are constantly jailed or threatened with jail for their work. That this should happen in the United States is deplorable, yet with disturbing frequency we're seeing reporters subpoenaed and imprisoned for refusing to reveal confidential sources. A federal shield law will go a long way toward protecting those who report the stories the public has a right and a need to know."

Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Howard Coble (R-N.C.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) introduced the legislation. Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) will introduce an identical bill in the Senate.

The bill would:

  • Provide journalists with a qualified, but not absolute, privilege regarding their sources and the information gleaned from them. Journalists would have to testify only if a court found that "the non-disclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest, after taking into account the public interest in compelling disclosure and the public interest in gathering news and maintaining the free flow of information."
  • Establish that a journalist would be forced to reveal a confidential source's identity only if disclosure is necessary to prevent "imminent and actual harm" to national security, to prevent "imminent death or significant bodily harm," or to reveal the name of a person who has violated other laws by disclosing trade secrets or private financial or medical information.
  • Stop telephone companies, Internet service providers and other communications providers from revealing a journalist's confidential sources.

Other organizations that have endorsed the bill include the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press, CBS, SNN, the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, Gannett, McClatchy, National Public Radio, the New York Times, The Radio and Television News Directors Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Post.

A similar bill was introduced in the previous Congress. Last summer, the Press Club hosted a luncheon in which Lugar and Pence discussed the legislation.