SOURCE: Newspaper Association of America

March 11, 2008 12:54 ET

Media Groups Urge Quick Senate Action on Federal Shield Law After Former USA Today Journalist Ordered to Pay Unprecedented Personal Fines

Coalition Says a Federal Judge's Effort to Bankrupt a Journalist Into Revealing Her Confidential Sources in a Civil Suit Illustrates Urgent Need for Media Shield Law

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - March 11, 2008) - In a letter to the Senate today, more than 50 media companies and organizations pressed for quick passage of the federal shield legislation after a federal judge issued a decision over the weekend requiring Toni Locy, a former USA Today reporter and now university professor, to personally pay contempt fines for refusing to reveal her confidential sources. In an unprecedented ruling in former Army scientist Steven Hatfill's Privacy suit against the federal government, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ordered Ms. Locy to personally pay fines up to $5,000 per day until her next court appearance in early April and prohibited her former employer, or anyone, from reimbursing her.

In the letter, the coalition of media companies urged "immediate and favorable" Senate floor consideration of the Free Flow of Information Act (S.2035/H.R. 2102), saying the legislation is "vitally important to the national interest and an informed citizenry."

In the joint statement, the coalition of media companies said that news organizations prefer to have their sources on the record whenever possible. "However, history is replete with examples of news articles critical to the national interest that would never have been written had it not been for the protection of confidential sources."

S. 2035, which was favorably reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 15-4 vote, has since been stalled in the Senate. Last week, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA) sent a letter to party leaders urging Senate action on this important legislation, noting its bipartisan majority support in the House and Senate Judiciary Committee. The House passed a similar shield bill (H.R. 2102) by a 398-21 vote. Both versions of the Free Flow of Information Act are available for immediate floor action.

The Free Flow of Information Act will protect confidential sources by establishing a uniform standard for obtaining information from reporters in federal court proceedings. Both versions of the legislation have been amended to ensure that national security also is protected.

A list of supporting media companies and organizations is available here.

For more information about the legislation, please visit http://www.naa.org/Public-Policy.aspx.

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