I headed to Washington DC last month to meet with members of Congress and their staff about the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007
which had just been introduced days before my visit. For those that don't know, the bill would extend the same protections journalists are afforded in most state courts to the Federal level. These laws are generally known as shield laws and offer legal protections against forcing journalists to testify about their work, and there is some level of shield afforded to journalists in almost every state
So why are these shield laws important, and why should journalists be afforded this protection in the first place?
One of the basic defining principles of a democracy is a free press. If information is being stymied by the government, or the political conditions make it impossible for people to engage with the press then the public is robbed of all the facts they need to make an informed decision. Much of the work that journalists due relies on a trust relationship between their contacts, and the material uncovered through the investigative process is not dissimilar from that of detectives. Unless there are protections established than journalists can easily be subpoenaed and forced to do the work of law enforcement thus muddying their position as the Fourth Estate and the trust they have worked so hard to establish.
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