Latest Attempt To Create Federal Journalism Shield Law May Carve Wikileaks Out Of The Protections

from the petty,-much? dept

With so much attention getting paid to Wikileaks lately -- and with some politicians insisting that the site is guilty of treason, it should come as little surprise that no US politician wants to be seen proposing a law that somehow helps Wikileaks. We've written in the past about the (very much needed) effort to create a federal shield law for journalists, allowing them to protect their sources. Of course, part of the issue is who counts as a "journalist." In the past there's been a lot of back and forth and back and forth over whether or not "amateur" journalists could qualify -- but one thing that the folks working on the bill now want to make sure: it won't apply to Wikileaks (sent in by paperbag).

Apparently Senators Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein are quickly drafting a special amendment that says the law wouldn't apply to "websites that serve as a conduit for the mass dissemination of secret documents." That's obviously targeted directly at Wikileaks, but it certainly could impact other sites that store documents as well, and that could create problems. I understand the political reasoning behind this, but it seems silly and only likely to cause more problems. And, of course, it won't have any real impact on Wikileaks anyway. Not only is the organization not based in the US, but it designed its system to act as a technological shield law, anyway. So, the law won't impact Wikileaks, but will almost certainly end up creating unintended consequences for other sites. All for political capital. Wouldn't it be nice if we had politicians who did what's right for once, rather than what's politically expedient?

Filed Under: journalism, shield law, wikileaks

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  1. icon
    Hugh Mann (profile), 5 Aug 2010 @ 6:11pm

    No shield law necessary

    Journalists should not get any protections that private citizens don't get. Journalists operate under the First Amendment, and should have exactly the same rights as private citizens - no more and no less.

    Just like if I were to stand on a street corner and start announcing information I had uncovered, a journalist who demonstrates he has knowledge of, say, a criminal act, may very well become of interest to the proper authorities, and may in fact be a material witness.

    Journalists should also be subject to all the limitations on First Amendment exercise that I am. They can't do the equivalent of shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre. They can't defame people (i.e., they should be subject to being called to account for the truthfulness of their articles). Etc., etc., etc.

    Until we can get someone like Walter Cronkite back, who was widely regarded as an objective reporter of facts and not a biased mouthpiece or sensationalist, I'm not inclined to grant any sort of privileges at all to journalists. They don't deserve 'em.


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