In response to widespread criticism of the Justice Department for secretly obtaining phone records of AP journalists and even non-journalist employees across the organization, WashPo today reports that:
…the White House began pushing for a federal media shield law in an apparent act of damage control amid criticism by members of both political parties and the news media…. The Free Flow of Information Act would protect journalists from being compelled to testify about their confidential sources, unless all other avenues are exhausted and exposure is in the public interest.
But this leaves unanswered the important question, “Who is officially recognized as a ‘journalist’?”
And who is not?
If a citizen journalist/blogger blows open a story that embarrasses and exposes the powers that be, is that blogger to be protected from revealing the source?
The privileges and protections accorded to “professional journalists” are not applied to bloggers, who are subjected to fines and legal action for refusing to reveal sources, nor to organizations like Wikileaks for publishing leaked information (though Officially Recognized Media Outlets such as The New York Times and The Guardian are allowed without penalty to make money by republishing and analyzing Wikileaks content).
This proposed law is nothing new, by the way. We are hearing about it in today’s news as though the push to pass such a bill is originating at the White House, when in reality this is an Obama-flip-flop. Acccording to Clothilde Le Coz writing for PBS back in 2009, noting the struggle since 2006 to get such a bill passed, “Even President Obama, who supported the bill as a senator, now seems to have changed his mind.”
And, sure enough, the 2009 version of the bill “currently defines a journalist as a person who: (iii) obtains the information sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, an entity.” In other words, the legions of citizens out there reporting news on their own time at their own expense can be sued and might rot in jail for 224 days for protecting their sources.
In this new era of journalism wherein the lines between Pro and Am reporting are increasingly blurred, in this age in which major news outlets rely increasingly upon bloggers and tweeters to report news from the ground (as was the case after the killing of Osama bin Laden) … what good is a Federal Shield Law, or this languishing Free Flow of Information Act that has suddenly found new favor with the White House, when in actuality protections are only afforded to Big Media that are already pwned by the government?