Sunday, November 01, 2009

White House Moderates Position On Protected News Sources

Call it the Judith Miller Law, but here's a first tangible move toward re-charging a First Amendment effectively trashed by perpetual Fake War footing and the threat of reporters going to jail while protecting confidential sources. The impending compromise gives more discretion to individual judges in deciding when it is in the public's interest to protect source identity.

It doesn't take a genius to predict that a flurry of appealed Supreme Court-bound cases will surely ensue, but the implications for increased transparency are positive. Whistle-blowers won't have to risk as much, so the flow of information to reporters will open up a bit. Not to expect Edward R. Murrow to resurrect or anything, but it's the first bright spot for traditional news reporting in a long time.
It could even have commercial benefits--the news media seldom ruminate on how we The People might be buying less because they're putting out crappy, weakly-reported product.

The White House had been holding the hard-line status quo, and
President "Make Me" Obama deserves an attaboy for giving some ground:
“We expect this proposal to move forward with bipartisan support, and the president looks forward to signing it into law,” said Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, who noted that the Obama administration was “the first administration in history to support media shield legislation.”

The protection would apply not only against subpoenas for reporters’ testimony or information but also against investigative efforts to obtain phone and Internet records to find out who had been talking with them.

Under the agreement, the scope of protection for reporters seeking to shield the identities of confidential sources would vary according to the nature of the case: civil, criminal or national security.

In civil cases, the litigants seeking to force reporters to testify would first have to exhaust all other means of obtaining the information. Even then, the judge would apply a “balancing test,” and the burden would be on the information seekers to show by a “preponderance of the evidence” why their need for the testimony outweighed the public’s interest in news gathering.
Full article at the New York Times.

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