The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection on Monday of New York Times journalist James Risen’s appeal leaves him in the unenviable position of potentially revealing confidential sources…or potentially going to jail. It is more important than ever for Congress to pass a federal shield law.
Reporters doing their jobs never should have to face that choice. The Society of Professional Journalists strongly encourages the Senate leadership to bring the Free Flow of Information Act to the Senate floor for a discussion and vote.
In July 2013, Risen — who wrote a book on a failed CIA effort to ruin Iran’s nuclear ambitions during the Clinton administration — was ordered by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer hit with criminal charges after Risen’s reporting. On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Risen’s appeal.
If the Free Flow of Information Act (a federal shield law) had been law, Risen likely would not be facing jail time for exercising his First Amendment rights and merely doing his job as a journalist. The act was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last September, but it has yet to be brought to the floor for debate.
“This illustrates, in concrete terms, why Congress should move quickly,” said SPJ President David Cuillier. “Ultimately, this isn’t about protecting Risen or other journalists. It is about protecting the ability for Americans to receive the information they need to adequately self-govern.”
Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have protections for journalists and their sources in place, but there is no protection on the federal level. Given the Risen case, coupled with Justice Department action last year against the Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen, it is clear that the time has come for a federal shield law.
“We encourage all journalists and citizens to immediately contact their members of Congress to urge passage of the shield law,” Cuillier said. “With so many pressing issues in the nation today — NSA wiretapping, Veterans Affairs, health care financing and more — we must ensure a free flow of information for the public to know what is going on.”
SPJ has been a longtime proponent of the Senate passing a federal shield law. To learn more about the organization’s efforts, as well as the law itself, please visit http://www.spj.org/shieldlaw.asp. You can also use the resources on the web page to contact your senators by telephone and encourage them to support our nation’s journalists.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit http://www.spj.org/.