copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
Bloggers beware; the Bush administration thinks you are a threat. According to federal officials if the most recent version of the Free Flow of Information Act is approved there is ample cause for concern. The country will be in danger. Bloggers might be rebels in disguise. Indeed, some do not hide behind a cloak of darkness. They proudly proclaim, they are insurgents. Nonetheless, the definition of a rebel is in question, as is the characterization of a reporter. The burning question is, 'Can a radical also be a reporter?'
We may never know. The terms of Free Flow of Information Act has been bantered about for years. This measure is now pending in the House and the Senate. If passed, as is, bloggers would be granted perilous privileges said Rachel Brand, Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy.
"The definition is just so broad that it really includes anyone who wants to post something to the Web."Brand spoke at a recent House Judiciary Committee meeting. The Assistant Attorney General empathetically stated this proposed plan would shelter "a terrorist operative who videotaped a message from a terrorist leader threatening attacks on Americans."
In its latest form, the document specifies a "covered person" includes a blogger. Citizen journalists would be protected from prosecution under the "reporters shield." The Internet publishers would be awarded the right to withhold the names of confidential sources.
While this is the latest deterrent to the passage of a federal shield law, it is not the first. Federal officials, political pundits, and prominent scholars, have argued against this legislation for a years. Thus, ratification has long been delayed. In October 2005, the discussions were rampant and ripe.
Senators: Bloggers may not be true journalistsIn this article, published almost two years ago it was apparent, the discussion in 2005 was not novel then.
By Anne Broache,
October 19, 2005, 12:00 PM PT
WASHINGTON--Politicians indicated on Wednesday that a proposed law offering journalists special privileges might not be extended to Web loggers.
"The relative anonymity afforded to bloggers, coupled with a lack of accountability, as they are not your typical brick-and-mortar reporters who answer to an editor or publisher, also has the risk of creating a certain irresponsibility when it comes to accurately reporting information," Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said in a statement prepared for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on reporters' privilege legislation.
Cornyn on Wednesday [October 19, 2005] called for "serious discussion of what constitutes the term 'reporter.'" Lack of agreement on that definition has stalled federal efforts at shield law legislation for years, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, in a statement.Today is now yesterday. In June 2007, the dialogue continues. Currently, each Congressional chamber is considering a Bill that would cover . . .
"With bloggers now participating fully in the 24-hour news cycle," he said, "we might face similar challenges in defining terms today."
anyone engaged in journalism, which is defined as "gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public."This worries Democratic Representative Brad Sherman. This week he stated his apprehension for what he thinks a broad characterization. "I'd say anyone who didn't want to face legal action would immediately try to put up a blog and try to get journalistic protection." He then went on to state he is willing to work with colleagues to refine the definition.
Yet, the possibility of resolution is long in coming. The debate goes on. We, the American people, might wonder how much longer can we postpone ensuring freedom of the press and freedom of speech. If we are to preserve a democratic system, these rights must be declared and documented. A fearful press will do more harm than good. A representative government, by definition, requires an informed public. That seems self-evident. Nonetheless, there is much opposition.
George Washington University Law School professor Randall Eliason, argues against the Bill. Still, he states, "anything narrower is going to run into severe First Amendment problems." At least, those that oppose the measure acknowledge that "free speech" is our right, awarded to all citizens equally under the Constitution. Our forefathers thought the right to speak without fear of incrimination or imprisonment was [and is] vital.
Thankfully, there is support for the current plan. New York Times columnist and former Nixon Administration speechwriter William Safire, extolled the bill's current definition. This esteemed writer explained that actions are more important than labels. A journalist is not defined by his or her attachment to an organization. Their work distinguishes them as a professional.
"Whether you're a blogger or whether you're The New York Times or CBS or The Wall Street Journal, if what you are doing is aimed at informing the public, then you're a journalist, whether you get paid for it or not," he said. (The New York Times, the National Association of Broadcasters and other journalism groups have endorsed the latest bill, according to its sponsors.)Might the judicial branch have an opportunity to decide what is Constitutional if the legislation never leaves the House or the Senate. The obstacles appear to be never-ending. The Administration is firm.
At Thursday's hearing, the bill's chief sponsors, Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.), never directly addressed the issue of the journalist definition they crafted. Boucher told CNET News.com in an interview earlier this year that they intended to include bloggers "who are regularly involved in newsgathering and reporting." Any refinement of that definition would be left up to the courts.
[The] bill's sponsors continued to tout the necessity of passing their measure as soon as possible. The measure, Pence said, "[it] is not about protecting reporters, it's about protecting the public's right to know."While the public, according to the First Amendment has certain freedoms, inclusive of the right to know, there is reason to believe, the Justice Department and many members of Congress think these civil liberties threaten the nation. Perhaps, in fact the people's right to a free press and free speech endanger those in power. If the people truly knew what went on in the White House, the Department of Justice, in the House, or in the Senate, they might be appalled. Citizens might actually be concerned enough to give up their apathetic inclinations.
That cannot happen if the lawmakers [and breakers] are to be safe. Thus, politicians procrastinate, deliberate, and debate. Many obviously wish to prevent reporters from having a protective "shield right." Bloggers, this may mean you, or it may not, depending on what Congress or the courts decide. Perchance, the point is moot.
If Congress continues to delay, bloggers will have no power, no rights, or means for reporting. The certainty of Net Neutrality and access to information is waning. In little more than a year the writing tool, the means for distribution may be lost. Ma Bell may have more power than all these politicians combined.
Hold on to your mouse; grab your keyboards. Protect yourself from the terrorism. It is closer to home than you might imagine.
A Discussion of the Free Flow of Information . . .