GUEST COMMENTARY: Free flow of information crucial to our democracy

2013-06-25T00:05:00Z 2014-08-11T12:07:20Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Free flow of information crucial to our democracyBy Marlin Stutzman nwitimes.com
June 25, 2013 12:05 am  • 

As Americans come face to face with our government’s vast capabilities in a digital age, recent reporting on information provided by whistleblowers reminds us of journalism’s essential role in democracies. Additionally, the unsettling revelation that the Department of Justice recently targeted journalists with The Associated Press and Fox News makes the need for common-sense protections inescapably clear. It’s time for Congress to pass and President Barack Obama to sign the Free Flow of Information Act.

Enshrined in the First Amendment, freedom of speech and the press form the bedrock of our experiment in self-government. As a conservative, I believe a free and independent press provides the most swift and effective check on government power.

The free flow of information ensures powerful public officials are held accountable to the men and women who chose them. The public’s right to know is essential to a country of, by and for the people.

Unfortunately, these freedoms are under attack. Attorney General Eric Holder has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to target more officials for alleged leaks than any previous administration combined.

The recent revelations notwithstanding, while the number of investigations grows, the number of whistleblowers is quickly fading. Without the assurance journalists will not be forced to reveal their sources, there’s little reason to believe the chill on investigative journalism will end. That’s why I am proud to co-sponsor legislation Indiana Gov. Mike Pence introduced and championed during his service in Congress and that has been reintroduced by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.

The Free Flow of Information Act is a common-sense solution designed to ensure real transparency and accountability in Washington. This media shield legislation defends our First Amendment freedoms by protecting journalists from being forced to reveal their confidential news sources in federal proceedings. By setting clear criteria that provide privilege for reporters, except in crucial cases of national security, we can strike a balance between the public’s right to know and the government’s proper execution of the law.

The bill does not give reporters a special permit to break the law, and it certainly doesn’t allow the media to stand between prosecutors and criminals. It simply gives journalists the ability to report appropriate information to the public, free from government intimidation.

Forty-nine states, including Indiana, have already adopted common-sense media shield laws, and it’s time for the federal government to join them. Congress should pass and the president should sign the Free Flow of Information Act to make sure the DOJ focuses on putting criminals behind bars instead of harassing journalists.

Our Founding Fathers secured the right to a free and independent press more than 200 years ago. Today, we have an obligation to carry on that legacy of freedom for future generations.

Republican Marlin Stutzman, of Howe, represents Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District. A version of column was previously published by Politico. The opinions are the writer's.

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