Federal shield law: Member call to action!

January 31, 2014 06:00

The federal shield bill, also known as the Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987), is expected to be brought to the Senate floor early in the new legislative session. We need to make sure that this bipartisan bill has 60 votes to overcome a potential filibuster. Now is the time to contact your senators and urge them to vote YES on S. 987.

The bill's chief sponsors, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), sent a letter to their colleagues in 2013, urging them to support the bill. It was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in September and awaits a vote by the full Senate. A similar measure had previously passed in the House but if the Senate version passes, it will be introduced in the House. Read a section-by-section explanation of the bill the committee has sent to the full Senate.

You can call the Capitol Switchboard (202-224-3121) and ask to be connected to a senator’s office, or use our guide to reach your Senator's office directly.  If the senator is not available, please ask to speak with the senator’s chief of staff or press secretary. Or you may use the talking points below as the basis for your own letter to your senators. Another option to email your Senator, using the sample email and talking points developed by SPJ.

Key Talking Points:
  • The Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987) would allow journalists to protect the identities of their confidential sources in federal court.
  • The Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987) has strong bipartisan support. In September, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 987 by a 13-5 vote. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Schumer (D-NY) and Graham (R-SC), has a total of 20 co-sponsors from both parties.
  • The Department of Justice put confidential sources at risk by secretly obtaining the communications records of reporters from The Associated Press and Fox News. This overreach by the DOJ has had a chilling effect on communications between reporters and sources. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said, “Some of our long-trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us – even on stories that aren’t about national security. In some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone and some are reluctant to meet in person.”
  • The Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987) would establish clear and reasonable rules for when the government and others can seek information from journalists and their service providers that could compromise confidential sources.
  • An independent federal judge would review all information requests to journalists and their service providers to prevent government overreach and to protect the public’s right to know.
  • The bill is not a free pass for the press. It is creates a qualified, not absolute, privilege. There are exceptions to the privilege including a national security exception that allows the government to obtain information to prevent an act of terrorism or other harm to national security.
  • The bill would apply to the vast majority of people who do journalism regardless of medium or technology, and includes a safety valve that gives federal judges the discretion to protect the source of someone who does not fit precisely into the definition of “covered journalist.”
  • I urge you to communicate to Senate leadership that you support S. 987 and would like to see the bill brought to the Senate floor as soon as possible.

The National Newspaper Association has developed additional talking points to explain the importance of the legislation. If you have questions about the bill, please contact us.