Five myths about the federal shield law for journalists

Kurt Wimmer / Huffington Post

Free speech is the oxygen of the blogosphere. Blogs, tweets and Facebook posts couldn't have the profound influence they have rightfully earned in our new and diverse marketplace of ideas without a robust freedom to debate, to challenge, and even to be outrageous. So it's hardly surprising that when a congressional debate about protecting confidential sources mentions blogs, it touches a nerve.

That debate concerned the Free Flow of Information Act, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month on a bipartisan, 13-5 vote. If passed by Congress, the Act would be the first statute to protect journalists from being forced to identify their confidential sources in federal court. It would build on the protections of the First Amendment (because no act of Congress, of course, can minimize those rights) and fix a serious bug in our constitutional system -- multiple federal courts now have said that the only way for reporters to protect a confidential source is to go to prison indefinitely. Many of our federal courts have held that the First Amendment simply does not allow a reporter to protect a confidential source. That's hardly a solution that reflects our country's global leadership in free expression. Although 48 states and the District of Columbia already provide such protection in state courts, Congress has never passed a federal shield law. So the Judiciary Committee's vote should give journalists reason for optimism, as Emily Bazelon of Slate has so persuasively described.

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By Avi S. Adelman under Neighborhoods , Legal issues