Newseum panel debates federal reporter’s shield law

Reporters and media lawyers seemed optimistic about the proposed legislation that would establish a media shield law during a panel at the Newseum in Washington on Wednesday.

“I’ve got a better feeling now than I’ve ever had,” said Kevin Goldberg, legal counsel to the American Society of News Editors, even though the bill still faces major obstacles in Congress.

New York Times correspondent Charlie Savage was less optimistic, saying he was skeptical any form of the bill would pass.

The bill, known as the 2013 Free Flow of Information Act, passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. It’s unclear when it will go before the full Senate for debate.

Several panel members were involved in forming the bill and presenting it to Congress. Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, said the current bill was an improvement over its 2009 equivalent because it has an expanded definition of who is a journalist.

“This particular shield law isn’t going to do a heck of a lot for [exempted] national security situations,” Dalglish said. “But it will put a procedure in place for what a journalist can do [when subpoenaed] and how they can do it.”

Scott Armstrong, director of a government accountability project called the Information Trust, warned that defining a journalist and establishing national security exemptions could be “beginning to paint ourselves into a corner.”

Government agencies can still investigate the press, he said, long before they ever approach a reporter with a subpoena.

Associated Press associate general counsel Karen Kaiser disagreed, saying the national security exemptions were quite limited. She said the bill seems to have more momentum now than it did in the past.

“We’re at a very tense and critical point right now,” she said, and if it doesn’t pass, “we need to keep at it”