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How Easily Congress Removed Protection From Citizen Journalists

from the no-profit?--no-protection! dept

The House of Representatives approved a bill this week that would give journalists protection to shield their sources rather than having to give them up. This is a rather important bill, and while there's little chance of it actually becoming a law at this point, Declan McCullough over at News.com does a great job showing how different versions of the bill continually watered down who was actually protected -- starting with anyone practicing journalism, shifting to those who made some money from journalism activities and finally moving to only covering those who make a substantial part of their living that way. Declan has the full text, highlighting the changes to each version. Of course, it's hard to see how this makes any sense. Why should your ability to make money from your journalistic efforts have any bearing on whether or not you can protect a source? Given the rise of so-called citizen journalism -- where just about anyone is a journalist -- why should only those who do it full time for money get protection?


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 3:32am

    Onion

    How does The Onion fit into all of this? Will they have to reveal their sources?

     

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  2.  
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    Boris Jacobsen, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 4:07am

    Money

    So the same story now with journalism as with law, medicine, etc - the state will protect you if you've got money.

     

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  3.  
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    Wolfger, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 4:26am

    Lip Service

    n. 1) To put on the appearance of supporting something, while not actually supporting it in any significant way.

    Our lawmakers know that fewer and fewer people "make a substantial part of their living" practicing journalism, and more and more people are freelancing or publishing news for free (or for ad revenue that amounts to chump change). So they get to pass a bill that makes them look like they care, while actually being pretty near to completely ineffective.

     

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  4.  
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    The Swiss Cheese Monster, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 5:01am

    I think this question needs fixing: "why should only those who do it full time for money get protection?"

    This question should be:

    "why should only those who make a certain amount of money get protection?"

     

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  5.  
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    Mike F.M, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 5:02am

    What happens

    What happens if you have the same source as a professional journalist? Will you still have to give them up and just hope that no-one makes a connection to them also telling the protected party?

     

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  6.  
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    Danny, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 5:19am

    Re: What happens

    I get the feeling that's a loophole that was conveniently left out for just that purpose. If the court/police/government can't get at a professional journalist's source then all they have to do under this new bill is just do a major shakedown of the non-professionals and hope they get lucky. And if this bill becomes law what is to stop them from periodically shaking down any non-professional they wish?


    And I also agree with comments #2 and #4. The old phrase, "The golden rule is the man with the gold makes the rules." is becoming more and more true these days.

     

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  7.  
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    Jerk, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 5:24am

    RE: What Happens

    Mike F.M,

    "What happens if you have the same source as a professional journalist? Will you still have to give them up and just hope that no-one makes a connection to them also telling the protected party?"

    Good point, what could happen, is that some sources will refuse to talk to anyone except those with enough money to be protected by law. This helps the old guard media keep their power, because new media can't protect their sources. It's another start towards government-enforced monopoly.

     

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  8.  
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    Just Me, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 5:46am

    What about....

    I certainly don't disagree that money talks (or even gets it's own megaphone) but just to play devils advocate here what if we look at it from the other angle?
    If any "source" for journalism is protected by law then what's to keep me from spreading slanderous lies and writing it in my blog just to cry "source" when the targets of my slander sick their lawyers on me?

    I'm sure this is a real concern with real journalist (read paid) at least they have their reputations to consider. As a blogger/amature journalist anyone can say whatever they like and if no one takes them seriously who cares, right?

    Thoughts?

     

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  9.  
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    Thomas, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 6:02am

    Good for us - some of us anyway

    Well depending on the exact wording (which I didn't check on since I'm a citizen journalist and no more responsible than most professional journalists) this could still be construed as good for some of us.

    Those like me, who are currently unemployed, or those too lazy to do anything but spend our time writing on our blogs and playing games might benefit. Why? Because whether we make five cents, five dollars, or five large a week from ads on our sites we are deriving 100% of our income from journalism.

     

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  10.  
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    TheDock22, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 6:35am

    Re: What about....

    If any "source" for journalism is protected by law then what's to keep me from spreading slanderous lies and writing it in my blog just to cry "source" when the targets of my slander sick their lawyers on me?

    I was kind of wondering this to. I thought to whole reason for the rule of giving up sources was to prove the story is true. I always think it looks bad when journalists who are asked to give up their source denies doing that.

    Is there any benefit for journalists to protect their sources? Are we just suppose to believe whatever they print without knowing the source?

     

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  11.  
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    comboman, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 7:05am

    Wrong focus entirely

    The law should be trying to protect the sources (i.e. whistle-blowers), not the journalists. A journalist could make up any story he wanted with no proof and then claim he has an anonymous source that he can't reveal. Protecting the source (from being fired or other types of retribution) would let them come forward openly without the need of a journalist's protection.

     

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  12.  
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    Rick, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 7:24am

    So what...

    After Ronald Reagan and Alberto Gonzales showed America how to answer any question and not say anything, why worry?

    "I don't recall."

    It's the perfect defense. It is indisputable. It is completely legal. It's even Presidential...

     

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  13.  
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    Witty Nickname, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 8:32am

    Second Ammendment

    If they limit the number of people who can take advantage of the second ammendment, now they can start taking away rights from the other parts of the Bill of Rights.

     

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  14.  
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    TheDock22, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 9:03am

    Re: Second Ammendment

    If they limit the number of people who can take advantage of the second ammendment, now they can start taking away rights from the other parts of the Bill of Rights.

    What second amendment right is being violated by making journalists relinquish their sources so we all know they are telling the truth? No part of the Bill of Rights covers the freedom to lie.

     

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  15.  
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    Ferin, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 9:36am

    Bad call, but

    I agree that the language that's been pushed through is bad, but does it really make sense to say that anybody who calls themself a journalist deserves this protection?

    At some point shouldn't the people have some ability to tell some random guy running their mouth off about sources telling him things to put up or shut up?

    I don't think it's a bad idea to shield journalists, but I'm concerned about the possibility of taking that definition too far.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 4:40pm

    Re: Re: What about....

    I thought to whole reason for the rule of giving up sources was to prove the story is true.
    Not usually. The sources that are sought are usually whistleblowers and the reason they are usually sought is so that retribution can be inflicted upon them for disclosing some wrong doing. There is usually little question as to the truth in such cases.

    Is there any benefit for journalists to protect their sources?
    Yes. Without such protection whistleblowers will not come forward, especially in cases of government misconduct, for fear of reprisal. If you believe that it is good for society for govt misconduct to be exposed (some people don't), then it is important to protect those who do the exposing.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 4:43pm

    Re: So what...

    You seem to be making the mistake of believing that the law is the same for everyone. When commoners try that defense they just get thrown in prison until "their memory improves".

     

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  18.  
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    Richard A. Jarvis, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 6:25pm

    Re: Re: Second Ammendment

    What second amendment right is being violated by making journalists relinquish their sources so we all know they are telling the truth?

    That's what govt censors are for too, to make sure only the official "truth" get out.

    No part of the Bill of Rights covers the freedom to lie.
    Protecting sources is not lying. In fact, it usually helps to get the truth out. Some people don't like that.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 6:31pm

    Re: Bad call, but

    I agree that the language that's been pushed through is bad, but does it really make sense to say that anybody who calls themself a journalist deserves this protection?
    Yes.

    I don't think it's a bad idea to shield journalists, but I'm concerned about the possibility of taking that definition too far.
    If you believe that source shielding is used to cover-up lying then what you're essentially saying is that it is OK for some journalists to lie but not others. That doesn't seem like a very principled position.

     

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  20.  
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    Sheldon S. Hite, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 6:50pm

    Re: Re: What about....

    "Are we just suppose to believe whatever they print without knowing the source?"

    That's up to each reader to determine for themselves, not you.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2007 @ 7:54pm

    Lobbyists

    I wonder if lobbyists for traditional big media news had anything to do with this as a way of reducing competition.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Ferin, Oct 19th, 2007 @ 7:26am

    Re: Re: Bad call, but

    I don't think it's necessarily always used to cover up lying. My concern is that if you take the definition of journalist too far, you give a lot of people some very broad protection to lie.

    If we push the definition of journalist too far, we run the risk of diluting it to uselessness. If any moron with a cell phone cam and a blog can claim such protection, I worry that people will begin to regard it with such cynicism that it will no longer be an effective tool for journalists.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 20th, 2007 @ 2:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Bad call, but

    My concern is that if you take the definition of journalist too far, you give a lot of people some very broad protection to lie.

    I see, so you only want some people to have protection to lie. The way I see it, everyone should have that protection or no one should. No just those who are "approved" to lie.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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