There is a sad irony in the proposed media shield bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
Lawmakers introduced the bill after the federal government violated press freedom by probing the phone records of Associated Press reporters without permission last year. According to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the proposed law “ensures that the tough investigative journalism that holds government accountable will be able to thrive.”
Yet an amendment attached to the bill does the very thing the legislation purports to stop: Rather than providing a “shield” so that the government cannot force those who do journalism to reveal confidential sources, it determines who is and is not legally a journalist, offering protection only for those who fit a too-narrow definition of the term.
Spearheaded by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) — who told the Judiciary Committee she believes the bill should apply only to “real reporters” — the amendment defines a journalist as an “employee, independent contractor or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information” on one of a number of specified platforms, including newspapers, websites, books, television and radio.