House bill describes journalism as ‘an act, not a profession’ — but mandates compensation to qualify for protection
The term ‘journalism’ describes an act, not a profession.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed (and quietly, it seems) a comprehensive reporters’ shield law on May 29. Notice came yesterday in the Congressional Record.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who snuck the bill into a mini-omnibus funding bill (and pissing off Republicans), said in the Record:
This amendment is to be construed liberally and broadly, to effectuate its purpose of protecting journalists and their sources from any coercive action taken by the government and the legal system. Its spirit applies to other government agencies, and to litigation between private parties. The terms ‘information or sources’ and ‘confidential’ are to be given the widest possible construction.”
For purposes of this amendment, the definition of a ‘reporter’ includes: any person, natural person, or entity who releases, reports on, or provides information of a classified or unclassified nature to a public audience or on the internet, does so on a regular basis, and receives compensation for doing so. The term ‘reporter’ is a description of a profession. [emphasis added]
Even though the House bill describes journalism as an act, not a profession, it does not protect me from a subpeona that requires me to reveal a confidential source. No one compensates me financially for blogging at Scholars & Rogues.
I read the bill this way: If you’re a blogger, and you’re not paid for doing it, this version of a shield law does not protect you.
Given that the print press has lost tens of thousands of reporters since 2007, many have become bloggers. If they’re not compensated somehow, either by a paycheck or advertising support, the protections they would have had as members of a journalism organization may not apply.
Not protecting those who gather, assess, and disseminate information — but who don’t get paid — hinders rigorous inspection of the government by its citizens. After all, it is a civic obligation to critique the performance of government. Sometimes, confidential sources are the only way to obtain appropriate information for those critiques.
What will the Senate do? I expect nothing. I don’t think the votes are there to bring the bill to the floor for debate, let alone a vote. The Senate is surely not going to remove the compensation requirement.
I guess I’ll have to be sure to not use sources who don’t want to be named. I might have to “out” them some day in a court room.