Journalists Press for Shield Law

The National Association of Broadcasters has joined with other groups in the News Media for Open Government (NMOG) coalition to press the new Congress to better protect journalists, including the long-sought federal shield law that has been introduced in numerous Congresses over the past couple of decades.

In its priority statement for the 116th Congress, NMOG says its agenda includes compliance with FOIA reforms, reducing "unnecessary and costly" litigation over FOIA requests, and "ensuring that journalists are not impeded in their newsgathering practices through policies that chill the daily communications between government officials and the press."

Related: White House Yanks Acosta's Credentials

No mention was made of any particular government officials, but President Donald Trump notably banned CNN reporter Jim Acosta from the White House for too aggressive questioning and it took a lawsuit to get his White House press credentials restored.

“NMOG is committed to promoting and advocating for policies on Capitol Hill that keep our government open and accountable to the governed," said coalition director Melissa Wasser, in this case an "open" reference to transparency not to the current government closure over "The Wall."

“Journalists take seriously their duty to investigate wrongdoing and hold government institutions and elected officials accountable without fear or favor,” said NAB president Gordon Smith. "The Founding Fathers’ guarantee of a free press safeguards the media's important role in a democratic society and provides for a more informed American citizenry. We strongly urge lawmakers to make protection of the First Amendment a priority in the 116th Congress."

The Radio-TV Digital News Association and News Media Alliance are also members of the coalition.

Virtually all states have some form of shield law to protect journalists from being compelled to reveal their sources, but there is no federal analog.

Just this week, some groups were concerned that attorney general nominee William Barr declined to rule out jailing reporters "for doing their jobs." He said he could conceive of situations where, as a last resort, and where a news organization had "run through a red flag" and where "putting out stuff that will hurt the country," a journalist could be held in contempt.

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.