Judiciary Sends Media Shield Bill to Full Senate
By Ryan J. Reilly | December 10, 2021 6:21 pm
Sen. Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed the media shield bill to the full Senate on Thursday (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice

Sen. Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed the media shield bill to the full Senate on Thursday (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

A bill protecting the right of journalists to keep their sources confidential passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today by a 15 to 4 vote.

The legislation has been endorsed by Attorney General Eric Holder and media organizations.  But Sen. Jeff Sessions, the panel’s top Republican, said the bill would protect “criminal leaking of classified information” and “hamstring the government’s ability to keep its most vital operations confidential.”

Several amendments failed, including one introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) which limited the definition of a journalist.

The legislation broadly defines journalists to include bloggers, citizen journalists and freelancers.

Durbin said that definition was too expansive and would cover politicians on Twitter, holding up examples of some of his colleague’s tweets.

Sessions said the bill doesn’t “state with sufficient clarity who qualifies as a journalist.” The Alabama Republican added in a statement, “This is a serious concern. The shield could potentially apply to everyone from high school kids in a journalism class to those producing tracts for extremist groups. We are rushing into perilous and uncharted waters.”

But Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, pointed to what he called the anonymous “blogs” of Benjamin Franklin, and said journalists writing under pseudonyms should not be excluded from the bill.

The Senate version of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009 protects reporters’ confidential sources in federal court. Those rights are not absolute, and can be overridden in national security cases. However, under the legislation, the government would have to provide facts to back up its claim that a leak of information harmed national security.

The bill would also extend protection to journalists’ phone and email records held by third-party communications companies.

The media shield legislation was introduced by Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in February. It would provide protection on the federal level for the journalist-source relationship. Most states already have media shield laws.

“I’m happy with the final language,” Leahy told Main Justice. “It’s been a long time getting here, I tried to make sure everyone had the opportunity to get heard and for all those who said we couldn’t get it out of committee, we did.”

“The Free Flow of Information Act strikes the right balance among the important objectives of protecting our nation, enforcing our criminal laws and ensuring freedom of expression,” said Leahy in a statement. “After years of debate and countless cases of reporters being held in contempt, fined and even jailed for honoring their professional commitment not to publicly reveal their sources, the time has come to enact a balanced Federal shield law.”

The act is supported by more than 70 news media and journalism organizations, including ABC News, the Associated Press, CNN, the National Newspaper Association and the Society of Professional Journalists, according to Leahy’s office.

This story has been updated with a statement from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)



  1. Highlights from Main Justice | Ryan J. Reilly says:

    [...] Judiciary Committee Sends Media Shield Bill to Full Senate [...]

  2. Media Shield Law Passes Senate, Without Feinstein-Durbin Amendment | blogs.vocalo.org says:

    [...] Sen. Durbin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wanted to add to a federal media shield law failed yesterday in the judiciary committee. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2009 (PDF) passed, however, and [...]

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