Sunday, September 24, 2006
Shield Law For Reporters Stopped
The administration sees the fourth estate as a fifth column.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has postponed consideration of a federal shield law for journalists after hearing strong new objections to the measure from the Justice Department. ...
One focus of administration opposition is a provision that would require the Justice Department, to obtain a journalist's testimony about sources of a leak of national security information, to convince a judge that the disclosure caused more harm to the government than benefit to the public. The judge would have to weigh the possible danger to national security against the public's right to know the information.
Under current law, no such balancing test is administered by a judge. Instead, a journalist who is subpoenaed to give up the source of such a national security leak has no protection unless he can prove the government's request is unreasonable or a form of harassment.
"In imposing a burden of proof on the government, it places a thumb on the scale in favor of the reporter's privilege and tips the balance against executive branch judgments about the nature and scope of damage or potential damage to our nation's security," Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty told the Judiciary Committee at a hearing last week.
The bill also sends the wrong message to leakers, McNulty said, adding that "it may encourage their unlawful and dangerous behavior." The measure puts federal judges "into the altogether unfamiliar territory of having to weigh national security interests against the public's interest in receiving certain news . . . [and] as numerous judges have recognized, the courts lack the institutional resources and expertise to make those decisions," he said.