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Modified Shield Law Reintroduced

Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has reintroduced a federal shield law bill, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2006, that would protect reporters from having to reveal information about their confidential sources.

Lugar introduced the bill in FEbruary 2005, and there were hearings in the summer and fall, but with two Supreme Court nominees, actually three when you include Harriet Miers, to vet, the committee did not move to a markup on the bill.

The bill has been modified to add exceptions in extreme cases

The changes, reflecting issues raised in those hearings, create exceptions to the shield in cases of national security or when the reporter has been witness to a crime. Even veteran journalists are not absolute about the privilege.

When asked at a July 20, 2005, hearing by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) whether the privilege should be absolute, New York Times columnist William Safire  said no. “If a national security crisis is about to occur, as citizens, reporters have to help. But journalists and reporters are not the fingers at the end of the long arm of the law.”

Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence, a former broadcaster, introduced a similar bill in the House and has been working with Senate Sponsor Richard Luger on the effort to protect journalists' confidential sources by setting national standards for government subpoenas.

The Society of Professional Journalists endorsed the modified bill, saying it would provide "significant protection to journalists."

The majority of states already have their own shield laws, and most others have some judicial precedent for reporter privilege.

The Lugar bill has the co-sponsorship and support of Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), but Lugar's office did not know when a hearing or markup on the bill might be scheduled.