Senate Judiciary Committee Defines Journalist As Anyone Who Writes Anything, Ever

ByAlicia McElhaney

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Free Flow of Information Act on Thursday, which if approved by the Senate would be a piece of landmark legislation for journalists in America. The act protects reporters from being imprisoned or fined for refusing to identify confidential sources as long as they do not pose a threat to national security or threaten the integrity of a criminal investigation. The bill, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham(R-S.C.), passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 13-5 vote. It will now proceed to the Senate.

This bill is also is historic in its distinction between journalists and hackers, those who unlawfully leak information to the public. The act would only protect journalists, which the federal government defines as someone who has worked for a news organization for over a year in the past 20 years, or for at least three months in the last five years. Student journalists are included in the definition, along with anyone a judge deems was participating in news gathering activities.

Despite journalists' qualms about some of the bill's amendments, the bill provides protection that didn't exist before and strikes a critical balance between the federal government's need to investigate leaks of classified information and support the free press. Seventy two established media and journalism organizations have voiced their support on the bill in a letter sent to the Committee by the Newspaper Association of America.