By Mike Maharrey on September 23, 2013
When the feds tell you they want to protect your rights, watch out! In all likelihood, that means they plan to strip some of your rights away and expand their own power.
Case in point, a “shield law” for journalists currently the subject of congressional debate. The political class wants to protect journalists from requirements to reveal sources or documents. S.987 would “maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclosure of information by certain persons connected with the news media.”
Sound good, right?
But consider this: in the process, Congress gets to define a “journalist.”
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee did just that, approving a federal definition of journalist 13-5. According to the feds, an employee, independent contractor or agent of ”an entity or service that disseminates news and information” qualifies as a journalist. The definition would extend to student journalists and the language also allows a federal judge to declare a person a “covered journalist.”
This definition leaves bloggers and individuals writing or reporting on their own out of the loop. Unsurprisingly, organizations representing “professional” journalists support the measure. Nothing like defining your competition out of existence.
So, under the guise of protecting the rights of journalist, Congress essentially wants to narrowly define freedom of the press. Texas Senator Ted Cruz recognized the ploy.
“Essentially, as I understand this amendment, it protects what I would characterize as the ‘corporate media’…. But it leaves out citizen bloggers,” he told the Christian Science Monitor.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) admitted the amended language in the bill essentially separates “professional” journalists from the everybody else.
“I’ve had longstanding concern that the language in the bill as introduced would grant a special privilege to people who aren’t really reporters at all, who have no professional qualifications whatsoever. The fundamental issue behind this amendment is – should this privilege apply to anyone – to a 17-year-old who drops out of high school, buys a website for $5 and starts a blog? Or should it apply to journalists, reporters who have bona fide credentials?”