Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve the Free Flow of Information Act, which would create additional protections for journalists at the federal level. The Free Flow of Information Act was first introduced in 2007, but finally, it will get before the full Senate for a vote.
If enacted, the new law would extend protection to a larger group of people under a broader definition of “journalist,” which will grow to include reporters, bloggers, freelancers, non-fiction authors, students, and photographers to name a few.
While many states have shield laws for journalists, one has yet to be passed at the federal level. The Free Flow of Information Act would give federal judges the authority to interpret the ambiguous “journalist” term and apply it on a case by case basis. In other words, just because a specific type of journalist isn’t expressly included in the written language of the law, that doesn’t mean he or she cannot be protected under the law.
A number media organizations helped to craft the wording in the proposed law and organizations. Alicia Calzada of NPPA explains that the bill defines “covered journalists” as individuals who have specific elements of journalistic intent when they’re gathering information. They also have to meet three criteria:
Employment: If on the relevant date the person was working (either as a staffer or independent contractor) for an entity or service that disseminates news or information. A covered entity includes, among other things, a newspaper, wire service, news agency, news website, news program, magazine, print or electronic periodical, television or radio broadcast, or motion picture.
Experience: If the person has worked for one of the entities described above for three consecutive months in the past five years, or for an entire year during the past twenty years.
Safety net: If for some reason, a person believes that they should be covered but they don’t fall into any of the prior categories, a judge can decide that the person is entitled to the qualified privilege in the interest of justice. This gives the judge discretion to strike a balance between the need for a limited application of the privilege and the ever changing definition of journalist.
While many pundits are questioning whether or not the federal government should have the authority to define what makes a person a journalist, media organizations are vocally advocating the Free Flow of Information Act. The Author’s Guild published its position in a recent blog post stating, “The more inclusive definition makes this a double victory for free press advocates who feared that the law as previously written would leave unprotected many journalists who work in non-traditional media.”
The Free Flow of Information Act is definitely something Authoritative Content publishers should keep on their radar screens!