Senate Panel Advances Media Shield Bill That Would Define Journalists, and Maybe Protect Them

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A Senate panel voted Thursday to send the full Senate a bill that would protect journalists from having to reveal their sources to government prosecutors.  The media shield bill would enhance protections for journalists — while at the same time narrowing the definition of who exactly is considered a “journalist.”

The committee also approved an amendment that excludes certain journalists from the protections. 

The bill defines a “journalist” as someone who, at any point over the past two years, has held a traditional or contractual arrangement with a news organization for at least three months or, alternatively, who has had such a contract for a one year period at any point in the last 10 years. Those with substantial freelancing experience over the past five years are also protected, as are student journalists and reporters who have been deemed worthy of protection by a federal judge (we’re sure that won’t lead to any controversies down the line).

The bill was passed by a 13-5 vote, and was sponsored by Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Lindsey Graham. Republicans who opposed the bill argued that the government shouldn’t be in the business of judging who counts as a journalist while also arguing, somewhat contradictorily, that the bill provides too many protections for journalists.

“The remedy that this legislation seeks to provide is to differentiate between different types of journalists and to determine in the Congress’s mind who’s legitimate and who’s not legitimate,” said Republican John Cornyn, who opposed the bill. “The First Amendment makes no such differentiation.”

Jeff Sessions, meanwhile, said that the bill “doesn’t come close to being restrictive enough,” and “would encourage more leakers.”

The original bill was actually a lot more restrictive: It would have defined a journalist as someone who receives a paid salary from an employer. 

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