NOTE: The following letter was written from Press Club of Long Island President Dominick Miserandino to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand about enacting a federal shield law.
Dear Senator Schumer/Gillibrand,
I am writing to you today as president of the Press Club of Long Island, a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, to urge your support for a federal shield law, recently introduced as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 (H.R. 1962 and S. 987).
We believe it is critical that we enact a federal shield law now to protect journalists’ confidential sources and the public’s right to hold its government accountable. While 49 states and the District of Columbia currently have some sort of shield law, such a law does not exist at the federal level and its absence jeopardizes the public’s right to know.
A federal shield law may not have stopped the Justice Department from secretly obtaining phone and email records from the Associated Press, but a federal shield law might have required an independent judiciary opinion on whether the subpoena was necessary and possibly narrow the scope of the requested information.
Instead, the AP had no notice of the DOJ’s records demand and did not have the opportunity to challenge it in court. As a result, the subpoena was so broad in scope that the DOJ obtained information that had nothing to do with the leaks in question, including reporters’ interviews with members of Congress. A uniform protocol like a federal shield law would remove subjectivity from the equation, allowing an independent judiciary body to determine what’s necessary and appropriate.
Journalists aren’t looking for a free pass, nor is that the purpose of a federal shield law. Instead, the Free Flow of Information Act provides a qualified privilege for us to protect confidential sources, so that whistleblowers will continue to come forward. Without such a law, the sources that help hold the government accountable will stop talking.
Though Attorney General Eric Holder’s actions and sincerity may be questioned, he has publicly stated that the Obama administration supports a federal shield law. Based on past support of the shield law, I believe that bipartisan support in the Senate and the House of Representatives continues to exist.
We must stop incidents like the Associated Press faced with the DOJ. Journalists must be allowed to do their jobs without fear of being forced to disclose confidential sources. And we must protect the public’s right to know. Help us bring this very important issue to the forefront of Congress.
President, Press Club of Long Island