“Freedom of the press is a foundational freedom upon which all of our other freedoms and liberties are based and protected,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).
The Free Flow of Information Act, H.R. 1962, would protect reporters by preventing the government from compelling the disclosure of their source material, except under certain exceptions that must go through judicial review. Those exceptions include cases where it is necessary to prevent an act of terrorism, imminent death, or other harm to national security.
The sponsors say the bill strikes a “carefully tailored balance” between the First Amendment and national security and law enforcement.
“We believe it is time for Congress to intervene and take action to preserve and protect the First Amendment that we all believe in,” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said at the start of a news conference to discuss the bill. He noted that a free press provides critical information to the public, including information about the activity of the federal government.
“This May should be renamed ‘May intimidation month’…the actions taken by the Department of Justice remind me of the old Soviet-style tactics of government spying on the press,” Poe added.
Poe was referring to recent revelations that the U.S. Justice Departments secretly subpoenaed the records of multiple telephone lines used by Associated Press reporters and editors as part of leak investigation. It also tracked the phone calls of Fox News reporter James Rosen to find out how he got classified information about North Korea's nuclear test plans.
“The executive branch cannot be its own judge,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said at Wednesday’s news conference.
“As someone who worked a journalist for almost 20-years, this issue is close to my heart,” said Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.). “We need to protect every American’s right to free speech which is so often and in so many different ways carried out through freedom of press.”
At this time, the bill’s definition of who can be considered “media” is broad, but according to Rep. Poe, the definition will be narrowed and refined before a final vote on the bill.
The bill is based on similar legislation that passed the House of Representatives in the 110th and 111th Congress.
Both Reps. Poe and Rep. Conyers are senior members of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation.
“Given that 49 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia have special legal protections for the press, it is long past time that our federal government provides similar protections,” Conyers said. “I look forward to working with Rep. Poe and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on this vital matter.”
“The Free Flow of Information Act of 2013” is supported by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB); the Newspaper Association of America (NAA); the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); abd the Newspaper Guild-CWA and CBS.