Bush Opposes Federal Shield Law

The Bush Administration is ramping up its opposition to a federal shield law, including firing off letters threatening a veto and even adding a Website to host those letters and other information.

News outlets have been pushing for the Free Flow of Information Act, which would protect reporters from being compelled to reveal sources under threats of jail time and fines. The legislation offers exceptions for some types of information and in cases of national security, including to prevent future acts of terrorism.

Most states already have shield laws or case law that protects reporters and their sources, but the federal government has resisted following suit.

The administration, which has fought the bill from the outset, argues that it is unwise because it would hamper investigations into crimes and impair its ability to protect national security.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey argued in a letter to numerous legislators, “All evidence indicates that the free flow of information has continued unabated in the absence of a federal reporter's privilege.”

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in a letter to key legislators last week, said passage of the bill would be “disastrous” and make the country both less free and less safe “by subverting the enforcement of criminal laws.”

He opined that protections would be extended to “anyone who can claim to be a journalist, including bloggers.”

Journalists have been trying to get a federal shield law passed for decades. This most recent attempt was thought to have the best chance yet.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.