There is real danger in the proposed federal shield law. They would exclude bloggers. But forget bloggers. They would exclude citizens who commit acts of journalism. That is one side of the peril. The other side is that they will certify “professional journalists” by one definition or another and then have the power to decertify them.
“As to who is a reporter, this will be a subject of debate as this bill goes farther along,” [Sen. Richard Lugar] said in response to a question from Washington Post Deputy Managing Editor Milton Coleman. “Are bloggers journalists or some of the commercial businesses that you here would probably not consider real journalists? Probably not, but how do you determine who will be included in this bill?”
According to the first draft of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2005, the “covered person” protected by the bill’s terms includes “any entity that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means and that publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical in print or electronic form; operates a radio or television station (or network of such stations), cable system, or satellite carrier, or channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier; or operates a news agency or wire service.” The legislation also covers employees, contractors or other persons who “gathers, edits, photographs, records, prepares, or disseminates news or information for any such entity.”
A key reason some journalists oppose the popular federal shield proposal is fear that giving Congress the power to define who is and isn’t a journalist could lead effectively to the licensing of journalists.
Journalism must be defined by the act, not the person.