The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday postponed an expected vote on a “media shield” bill to provide new guidelines and protections for journalists targeted in government leak investigations.
The bill has attracted renewed attention following revelations of aggressive Obama administration leak probes in recent months, including investigations targeting journalists at the Associated Press and Fox News. The Free Flow of Information Act is intended to codify in law new Department of Justice guidelines on the treatment of journalists and reporting records in national security leak investigations.
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Although the Obama administration has faced sharp criticism for its handling of leak investigations and willingness to go after journalists who publish sensitive leaks, the Justice Department says it supports the need for a new media shield law.
Before the panel agreed to put off action until next week, a key Democratic lawmaker said she planned to offer an amendment limiting the scope of the bill’s protections. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said her amendment would clarify that organizations like Wikileaks, which has made public vast reams of classified U.S. data, would not fall under the bills protection and would not be granted the same First Amendment protections granted to traditional media organizations.
The decision to move the vote was momentarily held up until a tenth committee member was present. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on panel, was the only GOP senator to attend the hearing. After waiting 15 minutes, Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, showed up, blaming his lack of punctuality on broken gym showers.
“I have a good ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse,” Mr. Schumer said.
Mr. Schumer and South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham have teamed up on the media shield bill, designed to protect reporters from have to disclose information and sources during news gathering. The proposal also requires courts to “apply a balancing test before compelling disclosure” from journalists. Government investigators also must notify reporters within 90 days if their records are being reviewed.