There has been a great outcry in the media over Barack Obama‘s reversal/hedging on the federal shield law, the legislation that protects journalists from revealing their anonymous sources. While this has typically been dealt with on a state-by-state basis, currently Congress is debating turning the protection into a federal precedent. During his campaign, Obama promised a transparent White House, only to turn around ten months later and start talking about putting limitations on the law: his argument being that in cases of national security, journalists must be required to reveal their sources.
And while many wonder if we’re going to see the Valerie Plame case played out all over again if this blanket legislation doesn’t pass, another issue has been overlooked: Do bloggers fall under the protection of the shield law?
The issue stems from an amendment that Senator Charles Schumer has added to the bill, noting that “citizen journalists” (a category that includes bloggers) have never been protected by the law, and therefore should not suddenly gain that right. What a heavy advantage that would give to the mainstream media, which would be allowed to protect their sources, while online journalists and those not attached to a venerable institution like The New York Times would be legally forced to expose them.
Some might call it leveling the playing field: while it still falls to the MSM to prove their information factually correct before going to press or air (often at the cost of time), critics claim that bloggers are under no such accountability in their writing. If a federal shield law does pass but does not help protect bloggers, then the mainstream press may be able to gain back some of the consumers they’ve lost to the Internet simply based on the fact that they can claim to be more reliable and factual.
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