This bipartisan legislation is supported by U.S. Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Pat Leahy (D-VT). The bill now awaits Senate floor action.
U.S. Representatives Mike Pence (R-IN) and Rick Boucher (D-VA) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives and it passed on March 31, 2009.
“I applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee for passing this important legislation. The Free Flow of Information Act confirms America’s Constitutional commitment to press freedom and advances our foreign policy initiatives to promote and protect democracy. We must lead by example and the role of the media as a conduit between government and the citizens it serves cannot be devalued,” Lugar said. “I also appreciate my Hoosier partnership with Congressman Mike Pence on this important issue.”
The Free Flow of Information Act establishes a qualified privilege for reporters to withhold from Federal courts, prosecutors, and other entities, confidential source information obtained or created under a promise of confidentiality. The bill takes into account that, in certain instances, the public’s interest in national security, law enforcement and fair trials outweighs the public’s First Amendment interest in permitting reporters to protect the identify of sources.
The bill includes exceptions to the privilege to protect national security, prevent an act of terrorism, or stop a kidnapping or a crime that could lead to death or bodily harm.
In addition, under this bill, a journalist who is an eyewitness to, or takes part in, a crime may not withhold information on grounds of the qualified privilege. Federal courts have applied different rules in different jurisdictions, and Congress should provide clarity and uniformity.
Currently, 49 states, plus the District of Columbia, provide some measure of legal protection to reporters who decline, even under the threat of being held in contempt of court, to disclose the identity of confidential sources. The legislation championed by Specter, Schumer, Lugar, Graham, and Leahy would establish a federally recognized privilege to standardize the protection afforded to journalists.
In 2007, a similar bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and U.S. House of Representatives.