The Newspaper Association of America strongly urges Senate leadership to bring the Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987) to the Senate floor for a vote after the Supreme Court declined to hear New York Times reporter James Risen’s appeal. This case highlights the continued need for a federal shield law and why action must be taken. Due to today’s decision, Risen could now face jail time if he refuses to reveal the identity of his confidential sources.
“The Free Flow of Information Act would allow journalists to protect the identities of confidential sources in federal court,” said Caroline Little, NAA president and CEO. “It would establish clear and reasonable rules for when the government and others can seek information from journalists that could compromise confidential sources.”
The case against Risen began after he wrote a book, published in 2006, that detailed a botched CIA plot to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, which may have in turn provided the Iranians valuable nuclear technology. The reporting was based on information given to him by confidential sources. A subsequent Justice Department investigation led to Risen being subpoenaed to testify at trial about his source, which he has challenged. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, when it ruled against Risen, called on Congress to pass a federal shield law.
“The actions of the Department of Justice against Risen, as well as the May 2013 revelations that the agency secretly obtained communications records of Fox News and Associated Press reporters, has had a profound and chilling effect on journalism in this country,” said Little. “It is now time for Congress to respond to the judicial branch’s call for clarity and enact clear rules for when a confidential source can be protected under federal law.”
The Free Flow of Information Act has strong support. In September, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill by a 13-5 vote. It is sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and has a total of 24 co-sponsors from both parties.