Published On: Thu, Sep 12th, 2013

House advances ‘Media Shield’ while other attempts prevent access to certain public records and define ‘journalist’

The Senate committee voted 13-to-5 early Thursday to approve S.987, a bill meant to protect members of the press from government intrusion and “maintain the free flow of information to the public” in the wake of recent government scandals that involved federal investigations into reporters with the Associated Press and Fox News.

photo Josh Janssen via Flickr

photo Josh Janssen via Flickr

If approved by Congress and authorized by President Barack Obama, the bill will provide protections to covered persons in the event of a federal probe. The bill would make it more difficult for investigators to compel reporters to reveal their sources, and a judge would directly oversee and approve of subpoenas and court orders aimed at collecting private information used in newsgathering.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), argued the language “doesn’t come close to being restrictive enough” and later tried unsuccessfully to tack on an amendment which would have eradicated any protection for reporters who reveal classified information.

“This legislation, in effect, says we are going to create legal mechanism to protect anyone who is going to call himself a newsperson. And the leaker, basically, is the one being protected,” Sessions insisted. “This legislation would encourage more leakers. It gives some sort of advantage to them in significant ways. It makes it harder to stop and prosecute those cases.”

In related news:

 The House Judiciary Committee in Michigan on Thursday approved House Bill 4770, which among other things, attempts to define what a journalist is to restrict access to motor vehicle accident reports for a period of 30 days after the accident.

The measure is part of three-bill package aimed at impeding so-called “ambulance chasing” law firms. Within the package, the legislation is apparently an attempt to deny “ambulance chasers” quick access to accident reports. However, in that effort the bill sets out to define what does and doesn’t qualify as a “news publication.” 

“Government cannot license who speaks,” said attorney and MLive columnist Matt Davis. “When government licenses who is in the news media by saying, ‘This group of 50,’ or whatever the number, comprises the news media, government is deciding who gets to speak, and it cannot do that.

“The bottom line is that the news media is treated like the public. There are a few exceptions, but those are the exceptions; not the rule,” Davis, who formerly was a Detroit Free Press reporter and a department press secretary in the administration of John Engler, continued. “No one can declare himself or herself to be ‘the news media’ and thereby reserve special treatment and access that the public doesn’t receive. It’s an even greater peril if government declares who or what is ‘the news media’ because, obviously, government will have reasons for wanting to censor access to information.”

House Bill 4770 is sponsored by Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee is Rep. Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant.

The bill considers a journalist to be “an employee of a radio or television station licensed by the Federal Communications Commission” or “an employee of a newspaper.” 

A “newspaper” is said to include, “a newspaper of general circulation that is published at least once a week, include stories of general interest to the public, is used primarily for the dissemination of news, and may be published in hard copy form or on the Internet.”


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About the Author

- Catherine "Kaye" Wonderhouse, a proud descendant of the Wunderhaus family is the Colorado Correspondent who will add more coverage, interviews and reports from this midwest area.

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