Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared a bill that would grant journalists legal protection of their confidential sources (which sounds like a good thing in principle). Journalists and bloggers who report news to the public, under this bill, will be protected from being forced to testify about their work. But, it appears that the new legal protections will not extend to some. Upon further inspection, the bill doesn’t really seem to afford any actual protection, and instead it seeks to define which “real journalists” would be granted these protections. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein wants to make sure only narrowly defined “real journalists” get 1st Amendment protections.
The protection of the bill will not extend to controversial online websites like Wikileaks and similar, whose principal work involves disclosing ‘primary-source documents….without authorization’. Despite this, supporters of the bill have hailed it a breakthrough:
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been before to passing a strong and tough media shield bill, thanks to important bipartisan compromises, we’ve put together a strong bill that balances the need for national security with that of a free press.” – Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
However, not everybody is a fan, and the bill has raised harsh criticism. Matt Drudge publicly lashed out, labeling Sen. Feinstein as a fascist on twitter.
“Gov’t declaring who qualifies for freedom of press in digital age is ridiculous! It belongs to anyone for any reason. No amendment necessary.”
So how has the Judiciary Committee determined or defined who is to be considered a journalist deserving of this protection in the digital era? To be expected, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has insisted on limiting the detention and consequential protection for some, so as not to include those “17-year olds with [their] own website”.
“I can’t support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege… or if Edward Snowden were to sit down and write this stuff, he would have a privilege. I’m not going to go there.”
For those who have been hibernating, and are unaware of Edward Snowden, he is regarded by many to be a hero. Snowden was an NSA system administrator who recently divulged secret NSA documents to a few select journalists who reported on its significance. The documents revealed shocking violations of our privacy ad rights at the hands of our government, and their corrupt and constant hypocrisy.
Feinstein has introduced an amendment that offers a definition of ‘covered journalists’ which would include someone who gathers and reports news for ‘an entity or service that disseminates news and information, including “freelancers, part-time writers, and student journalists. The amendment permits a judge to go further and extend the protections to any ‘legitimate news-gathering activities.”
The worry lies in who is to determine what is to be considered a ‘legitimate’ news activity or source. Why do journalists require another bill for protection when they already have their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights? Feinstein insinuates that bloggers “with their own website” shouldn’t be considered, but can bloggers not take part in news-gathering activity? Can their personal website not share information and news with other people? Is this not a source of news for those who consider it as such, like the readers? It appears even the likes of Julian Assange wouldn’t be considered a “journalist” by these standards.
The bill also makes it clear that the intended protection is not absolute, and that federal officials can still compel disclosure from a targeted journalist who has information that could stop or prevent crimes such as murder, kidnapping, child abduction, and of course whistle-blowing. The archaic mainstream media news outlets are increasingly becoming obsolete, with a vast array of alternatives available for people with the internet. It isn’t surprising that this type of bill would receive support from dying convention news outlets,who frequently just parrot information and perspectives given to them by the government or financial elites.
The natural right to free speech is all and any protection that we need to be able to say or post what we want, so long as our words are not initiating violence against any other. If the goal of such legislation was really to protect journalists, instead of clarifying who isn’t a journalist, then this would have looked very different. This is yet another example of government approved speech and is a threat to our liberty.