Big Media Conglomerates Pushing Shield Law

Earlier in the month I reported on the media shield bill recently passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now that the bill is moving forward through the lawmaking process, a coalition of big media companies are putting their highly paid lobbying muscle behind it.

According to disclosure reports, Time Warner, Hearst Corp., National Public Radio, CBS Corp. and News Corp. are pressing their multi-million-dollar lobbying machines into service to urge Congress to pass the bill into law.

A spokesman for the lobbying firm that represents the Newspaper Association of America noted that a “crisis” helped spur the bill to finally emerge from the Senate Committee, that crisis being the recent prying into journalist’s phone records by Obama’s Department of Justice.

Big media is quite pleased with the current language of the bill as it seems to give them deference in just who is allowed to be called a “journalist.” But not everyone is happy with the bill.

Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) noted that the bill as it stands could be getting into “dangerous territory” by focusing on where journalists work instead of what they do.

“It seems to me the First Amendment protects the activity, not the employment status of the person engaging in it,” Cruz said.

The bill now essentially states that an official “journalist” is someone who reports news for “an entity or service that disseminates news and information” or conducts “legitimate news-gathering activities.” This would include freelance writers, part-time writers, and journalism students.

This language though, is still a bit vague on just what sort of “entity or service” qualifies as the kind a “real journalist” would work for. Worse, it leaves that fleeting definition up to government. This is a problem when one considers that this definition is what will be used to prosecute writers that the government feels stepped out of line on issues like national security.

It is also a major problem in the world of Internet journalism.

Would a small blog that reports the news about local politics be covered by the shield law? Would an Internet site that get hundreds of thousands or even millions of individual visitors qualify for protection? Why or why not?

The bill might also be somewhat weak for journalists, anyway. As drafted, the bill still gives the federal government wide ranging options to change its definitions on a case-by-case basis. The government will also continue to have the power to prosecute whenever it feels it is necessary to do so.

Finally, critics of the law point out that this would give the federal government power to afford approved status to some writers and not to others and this would have major ramifications for the First Amendment.

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  • GarandFan

    No worries Todd. Lady Diane Feinstein will come up with an accurate description. She did so well in defining “an assault weapon”. It’s ANYTHING a politician says it is.

    • Feinstein is no Lady! What an ugly Nazi witch that needs an assault weapon stuck up where the sun don’t shine. GRRRRRRRRRRRRR
      Same for the rest of the greedy government Regime!

  • LiberalNightmare

    I’d like to get more excited about this, but since the first amendment is only for hunting, I guess I don’t care.

    • jim_m

      That’s not true. The first amendment is about printing presses like they had in the 18th century. You are free to print as much as you want with an ancient screw press. All these new fangled things they call the press and journalism were not conceived of by the founders and they should not be afforded anything akin to constitutional right status.

  • Lawrence Westlake

    Meh. No reason to get the vapors about something that’s nowhere near the floor of the Upper Chamber (and the inevitable half-dozen or more amendments) much less ship-to-shore close to being enacted. By the time any such bill got through a conference report (it goes without saying the House’s version would be different from the Senate’s) it’ll look quite different. That aside, of course BigCorporateMedia is behind this version of the bill. That goes without saying. For obvious reasons. And liberal idiots (BIRM) who work for those companies undoubtedly would not be able to grasp the various layers of irony.

    • warnertoddhuston

      Yeah, there’s never a reason to get all excited. Why, our wonderful folks in government will figure it out and make eeeeeevrything juuuuuust right. Nothing to see. Move along.

  • Jwb10001

    How could a thing like this with all this vague language and open ended terms possibly hold up in the courts? Unless they still have those pictures that Roberts would like to keep hidden

    • Commander_Chico

      How could NSA collecting all emails without a warrant hold up in the courts?

      • It didn’t, under the Bush Administration (as previously demonstrated).

        • jim_m

          Not only that but the obama NSA lied to the FISA court to cover up their spying too.

  • Walter_Cronanty

    Since many of the most influential documents published prior to our revolution were anonymous pamphlets, this obsession with protecting only those citizens upon whom Congress deigns to bestow the title of “journalist,” because they work for some established media outlet, seems contrary to our Country’s founding principles. But who gives a rat’s patootie about principles when it comes to the First Amendment? Certainly not leftists in general, nor the ones in Congress.

  • jim_m

    Article I, Section 9, Clause 8:

    No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States

    Te left seems to have lost sight of this. They want to give themselves special rights over the rest of the public, just like how Washington wants to exempt themselves from every law they pass on us. They are setting up a noble class based on political affiliation.

    • Walter_Cronanty

      That is oh so true.

      Additionally, there is the Supreme Court decision in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, wherein the majority called anonymity “a shield from the tyranny of the majority,” and said anonymous publications have been important to “the progress of mankind.” The right to publish anonymously “unquestionably outweighs” any state interest in disclosure. The First Amendment protects advocates of a position who choose anonymity to avoid persecution, or to persuade without allowing the reader to prejudge the message.

      Oh, look where I cribbed and plagerized that from: Hypocritical bastards.

  • Commander_Chico

    I am totally with you and Ted Cruz on this one, Warner. This law would be a part of the destruction of the First Amendment and the state approval and licensing of journalists.

    Charles Pierce also has a good piece on the issue:

    This isn’t a law to protect journalists. If it were, that list of loopholes at the end wouldn’t be quite so lengthy — or quite so vague. (You can drive a team of ploughhorses through “information that could stop or prevent crimes such as…”) This is a law to protect secrets. This is a law that redefines the exercise of a constitutional right as a privilege “protected” by the government. This is a law that allows the government to define what “the press” is under the First Amendment, and, my god, if that’s not the primary consitutional heresy in that regard, I don’t know what is. And I don’t care that a judge can “extend” that privilege. That’s not a judge’s job, either.

    Read more: Dianne Feinstein Sheld Laws – Dianne Feinstein Defines “Journalist” – Esquire

    • Walter_Cronanty

      And I was just about to post some snark about wondering why you hadn’t posted something to attack Warner for, once again, attempting to abridge someone’s First Amendment Rights. Glad I’m a slow typist.

    • It’s about setting up an elite, and making sure their ‘elitism’ cannot be questioned.

      Funny thing, though – 50-100 years ago? It might just have passed… but they didn’t see any need for it then. The media channels were well established, and it was costly to start up things like newspapers and radio stations.

      But with the internet, and the ability of literally everyone who could come up with the money for a cell phone to record and post content, all of a sudden the gates are thrown wide open. We’re seeing a lot of things that weren’t apparent before – and though I think that’s a good thing, I’m worried we haven’t developed (as a society) good enough bullshit filters.

      ‘Cause frankly, there’s a lot of bullshit out there. Lot of good stuff also – but telling the two apart can be tricky sometimes.

      Anyway, I think what we’re seeing is a frantic attempt by the old guard (so to speak) to protect their privilege of being the one who decide what may or may not be covered or said. Because it wouldn’t do to embarrass some ‘elite’ by recording what they’re actually saying when they’re not adhering to the script…

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  • Constitution First

    Even-though you’ve always been free to agree with me, Comrade, we’re just making it official.