Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shield Law's Financial Test

Some bloggers who report on politics and other issues but either don't get paid or have other careers apparently wouldn't be covered by the journalists' shield bill just passed by the House.

This is a tough question: I don't think every single person who whips out a video camera and gets into a fracas or even simply writes about an event is automatically a journalist. But I don't think that a financial test is the answer, either.

And the problem with a shield law is this: that which isn't covered specifically by the law is most likely going to be declared illegal. And thus we have a law governing a free press. Bad move.

Strengthen the whistle-blower law (my commenter's view to the contrary); stop using anonymous feeds from the government, of any political persuasion, to attack others and, if a source deliberately lies, then out him. But don't give up your right to print that which, in many cases, shouldn't be classified anyway, to gain some limited protection from the law. In the end, it's not going to be on your side.

From OpenLeft

The House just passed the Free Flow of Information Act, a 'shield law' protecting journalists. Here's the rub.

The bill provides journalists with a qualified privilege as to sources and information, while at the same time, recognizing the need for effective law enforcement and robust national security. A blogger who regularly engages in journalistic activities - such as gathering and publishing news and information for dissemination to the public - and does so for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain would be covered by the shield as a journalist.
I have no opinion as to whether shield laws are a good idea or not, but it's worth noting that this law doesn't cover amateurs, consultants like me, people like Steve Clemons, diarists on Kos, or anyone else who derive most of their income from other sources. I don't understand why 'gathering and publishing news and information for dissemination to the public' isn't a good enough standard.

Here's the list of supporters: Associated Press, the National Association of Broadcasters, Bloomberg News, CBS, ClearChannel, CNN, Cox, Gannett, Hearst, NBC, News Corporation, The New York Times, TIME, and The Washington Post.

All of these groups make their money from advertising. So of course, if you get a substantial amount of advertising you get special protections. Otherwise, not so much.

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