EDITORIAL: U.S. needs federal media shield law

2013-05-19T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: U.S. needs federal media shield law nwitimes.com
May 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As if there weren't enough reasons to distrust the folks in Washington, the U.S. Department of Justice seized Associated Press phone records. This shows yet again the need for a federal media shield law.

Indiana state law offers a good model for the federal government to follow. Since 1941, state law provides reporters absolute protection from being forced to disclose the source of any information gathered in the course of their employment.

Forty years after the Watergate hearings, it is worth a refresher course in how that scandal came about. Two reporters investigating a break-in at the Watergate complex uncovered information that ultimately connected President Richard Nixon to the dirty tricks campaign against his opposition. Nixon resigned as a result.

That's the value of a free press, to serve as a watchdog on the government.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence understands this. When he was in Congress, he repeatedly sponsored legislation to establish a federal prohibition against forcing reporters to reveal confidential sources, except in the case of imminent death or terrorist attack.

The Free Flow of Information Act also would have forbidden a federal agency's secret review of reporter telephone records without obtaining a federal judge's approval.

"As a conservative who believes in limited government, I know the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press," Pence said in 2011. "Without the free flow of information from sources to reporters, the public is ill-equipped to make informed decisions."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is reportedly planning to reintroduce the Free Flow of Information Act. This time, Congress should enact the law.

Sources need the assurance that they can provide confidential information to the media with the understanding that the federal government cannot compel the reporter to reveal the source of that information.

In the case of the Watergate scandal, the identify of "Deep Throat" was protected until the source came forward himself late in his life. 

The nation needs a federal media shield law as strong as the one in Indiana. A free press is essential to serve as a check and balance on government.

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