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The Federal Shield Law

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By Chanelle Williams / Features Editor

By Chanelle Williams / Features Editor

The Founding Fathers probably had no idea the controversy that would stir and brew around the First Amendment when they wrote it.
 Journalists, like the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), have been fighting for ages to secure their right to freedom of speech and press, which should include their right to protect their sources. It looks like journalists may finally get an answer to their prayers.
A federal shield law is being discussed that would offer journalists protection from courts trying to force them to reveal their source when the source was promised to remain anonymous and confidential.
If this law is not passed, judges will be able to continue holding journalists in contempt. Judith Miller formerly of The New York Times spent 85 days in jail for protecting her right of not revealing her sources, Toni Locy of USA Today was fined $5,000 every day she did not give p her source and freelance reporter Josh Wolf set the record in 2007 for spending 169 days in federal prison.
If the law is not passed the affect on journalism will be immense.
If an investigative or political journalist, or any journalist for that matter, does not have the freedom to speak to a source in full confidence that journalist might as well be without a job.
Writers will have to self-censor their stories. They will fear seeking out complete truth if it means they have to divulge their sources to a court. What kind of service would journalists provide the public if that occurred?
It would be a disservice, that’s what that is. Journalists provide information for the American person about what the government is doing with their money, who’s doing what in the government, etc. The American public has the right to that kind of information.
That cannot be done if journalists are afraid to be the watchdogs.
 Journalists have tons of important information, why does it matter where they got it from as long as they can prove that their source is reliable.
However, the only time a court should compel journalists to reveal their source is if it is a case of national security. And in that case, national security should be clearly defined, so it will not be abused, and substantial support should be provided when that claim is offered.
The federal shield law states that in case of national security, the decision whether the information is imperative in order to sustain protection of the American people is made by the judge.
And then there are the federal prosecutors. “Lately, federal prosecutors have dragged too many journalists into court, flaunting subpoenas for notes, work product and recollections of private conversations. The feds’ arrogant insistence that journalists should be compelled to act as arms of law enforcement undermines free speech, a free press and an informed citizenry,” said Christine Tatum of SPJ.
What a shame it would be if the land of the free and home of the brave limited freedom of speech and of the press. After all, limited freedom is not freedom at all.
The shield law is what’s needed to draw the line, create a border that the court and the feds can’t step over.

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