In our recent awards ceremony honoring the Freepers, people who post comments and articles on the FreeRepublic website, Accuracy in Media was demonstrating an understanding of the power of new media. We cannot let the Big Media monopolize the concept of journalism. When we honored Harry MacDougald and Paul Boley with the Reed Irvine Investigative Journalism award, we were recognizing that ordinary citizens can be journalists, too.
Unfortunately, the sponsors of the so-called Free Flow of Information Act, or the federal media shield bill, do not understand this critical fact. In an October 10 article by Mark Fitzgerald on the Editor & Publisher website, he noted that Senator Richard Lugar, main sponsor of the shield law in the Senate, has said that bloggers would “probably not” be considered journalists under the bill. On the other hand, Rep. Mike Pence, the main sponsor of the bill in the House, says some bloggers will be covered, but only those involved in “gathering news.” He says those covered by the bill would have to be evaluated on a “blog-by-blog basis.”
This confusion is a terrible indictment of the bill and its sponsors. They don’t know what they’re doing. It demonstrates the tendency of politicians to get behind something that sounds good but which is impractical, even dangerous. After all, who can be against the “free flow of information?” But when you get down to the nitty-gritty of who is actually a “covered person” or journalist under the bill, the sponsors seem to throw up their hands, leaving definitions to others. That’s irresponsible.
To make matters worse, the Pence bill has already been rewritten. The bill was H.R. 581 and then it became H.R. 3323. Whatever the version of the bill, the Justice Department has said that it could potentially cover “news” organizations like Al-Jazeera and protect its terrorist “sources.” Even an Al-Qaeda media front could be covered, Justice says.
In the House, the bill only has 63 co-sponsors. But it also has the backing of powerful news organizations, which have concealed their role in lobbying for the bill from media consumers. In the Senate, there are only 10 sponsors. But it has already received two sympathetic hearings from Senator Arlen Specter of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In both cases, Specter refused to accept in person testimony from Accuracy in Media against the bill. He doesn’t want the truth about this dangerous bill to get out.