Big Media Conglomerates Pushing Shield Law

Earlier in the month I reported on the media shield bill recently passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now that the bill is moving forward through the lawmaking process, a coalition of big media companies are putting their highly paid lobbying muscle behind it.

According to disclosure reports, Time Warner, Hearst Corp., National Public Radio, CBS Corp. and News Corp. are pressing their multi-million-dollar lobbying machines into service to urge Congress to pass the bill into law.

A spokesman for the lobbying firm that represents the Newspaper Association of America noted that a “crisis” helped spur the bill to finally emerge from the Senate Committee, that crisis being the recent prying into journalist’s phone records by Obama’s Department of Justice.

Big media is quite pleased with the current language of the bill as it seems to give them deference in just who is allowed to be called a “journalist.” But not everyone is happy with the bill.

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Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) noted that the bill as it stands could be getting into “dangerous territory” by focusing on where journalists work instead of what they do.

“It seems to me the First Amendment protects the activity, not the employment status of the person engaging in it,” Cruz said.

The bill now essentially states that an official “journalist” is someone who reports news for “an entity or service that disseminates news and information” or conducts “legitimate news-gathering activities.” This would include freelance writers, part-time writers, and journalism students.

This language though, is still a bit vague on just what sort of “entity or service” qualifies as the kind a “real journalist” would work for. Worse, it leaves that fleeting definition up to government. This is a problem when one considers that this definition is what will be used to prosecute writers that the government feels stepped out of line on issues like national security.

It is also a major problem in the world of Internet journalism.

Would a small blog that reports the news about local politics be covered by the shield law? Would an Internet site that get hundreds of thousands or even millions of individual visitors qualify for protection? Why or why not?

The bill might also be somewhat weak for journalists, anyway. As drafted, the bill still gives the federal government wide ranging options to change its definitions on a case-by-case basis. The government will also continue to have the power to prosecute whenever it feels it is necessary to do so.

Finally, critics of the law point out that this would give the federal government power to afford approved status to some writers and not to others and this would have major ramifications for the First Amendment.

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