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Journalists Seek Co-Sponsors For Shield Law Bill

Broadcast and print journalist groups are trying to drum up co-sponsors for a bill that would establish a federal shield law.

The National Association of Broadcasters, the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and Newspaper Association of America sent letters to House members Thursday asking them to sign on to the bill, which would create a qualified privilege so that reporters could not be compelled to reveal sources to federal investigators.

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

"We urge you to support the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2007,” H.R. 2102," they said in the letter. "This bipartisan legislation is supported by a diverse coalition of more than 40 media companies, media organizations, and journalist groups. Passing this bill will help ensure the flow of important information to all Americans by allowing journalists to protect the identity of their confidential sources."

Thirty-three states have some kind of shield law, but there is no similar federal shield.

The bill's exemptions do allow the compelling of testimony or documents, assuming all reasonable alternative sources of the information have been exhausted, when: 1) such disclosure is necessary to prevent imminent and actual harm to national security, 2) disclosure is necessary to prevent imminent death or bodily harm, or 3) to identify someone who has disclosed trade secrets of "significant value" in violating of existing law, or has revealed identifiable health information or other personal information in violation of existing laws.

But just as the privilege is not absolute, the exemptions aren't either. There must also be a finding that to compel disclosure, even in those cases, is in the public interest given the public's interest in newsgathering and the free flow of information.