Federal shield law protects us all

The U.S. Senate should move to pass a shield law for America’s journalists.

Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed a decision on the Free Flow of Information Act, which would protect reporters from having to reveal their confidential sources in some federal cases. Such a so-called âÄúfederal shield lawâÄù would allow a judge to weigh the publicâÄôs right to know against national security issues. While the burden of proof would still fall on reporters in criminal cases, this is a substantial improvement over our current system in which reporters face jail if they refuse to give up their confidential sources under subpoena. A majority of states, including Minnesota, have shield laws on the books, but they donâÄôt apply to federal issues. This federal shield law is crucial to preserving the quality of journalism on a national level. Confidential sources need to be assured of their anonymity before they will provide reporters with information; the public has always relied upon whistleblowers to alert them of excess, corruption and other information outsiders simply cannot access. The bill is not perfect âÄî after all, it is the result of compromises on all sides âÄî but it is nonetheless a vital step toward ensuring a free and high-quality press. President Barack Obama supports the bill as it now stands; it is time for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which includes MinnesotaâÄôs own Sen. Al Franken, to act. There should be bipartisan support for this bill; the House of Representatives passed a version of it in March by a wide margin. The Judiciary Committee has an opportunity later this month to bring it to the full Senate, which should pass it without further delay.