From the Newspaper Association of America
In the past few weeks, we all learned that the Department of Justice secretly obtained phone records of more than 100 Associated Press reporters and monitored Fox News reporter James Rosen’s personal e-mail and cell phone records. In the AP case, the collection of telephone records potentially revealed communications with confidential sources across many of AP’s newsgathering activities, including communications with members of Congress from the House of Representatives press gallery.
Reporters can no longer assure their sources that interviews will remain confidential if there is no way to tell if the government is tracking their communications. The government’s tactics will scare away sources from coming forward with information that could expose wrongdoing, fraud and waste in government and in the private sector.
Fortunately, members of Congress across the political spectrum have responded to the problem with a solution. Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and John Conyers, D-Mich., in the House and Sens. Charles Schumer, R-N.Y., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in the Senate have introduced the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 (H.R. 1962 and S. 987), which would protect the public’s right to know by protecting journalists’ confidential sources.
The legislation, while not identical, essentially prohibits federal prosecutors, criminal defendants and civil litigants from subpoenaing information from journalists unless they convince a federal judge that the need for the information outweighs the public interest in the free flow of information. President Obama supports this legislative effort and said in his national security speech on May 23 that journalists “should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.”
In Washington, change often occurs in response to a crisis. This could be the best opportunity to establish reasonable and well-balanced ground rules ─ overseen by an independent federal judge ─ for when a journalist can be compelled to testify about confidential sources. But we need your help in building bipartisan support for action.
Please contact your representative or senator today by calling the Capitol Switchboard (202-224-3121) and asking him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 1962 (for representatives) or S. 987 (for senators). Please ask to speak to the chief of staff or the press secretary to communicate this request. While a phone conversation with key staff is the best approach, you could also send a letter.
We encourage you to take full advantage of the resources listed in a members-only toolkit on NAA.org, which includes a sample letter for use in contacting your representative, and an op-ed by NAA President and CEO Caroline H. Little that might be of interest to your editorial department and your readers.
If you have any questions or need additional information, please e-mail Sophia Cope or call her at (571) 366-1153.