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The ebb and (free) flow of journalism

Does anyone in cyberland remember the Free Flow of Information Act? Introduced to the United States Senate by Sens. Richard Lugar and Chris Dodd in 2007 and later amended by Sen. Arlen Specter, the bill intended to provide a news reporter with the right to refuse to testify as to information or sources of information obtained during the newsgathering and dissemination process. While numerous U.S. states have shield laws, the federal government has no such law. The bill is an effort to enact a shield law at the federal level. In the bill’s present form, it would not act as an unqualified immunity for journalists. Instead, federal judges would be allowed to declare certain news stories as having a public interest based on information obtained from confidential sources during the newsgathering process. In October 2007, the Free Flow of Information Act was passed by the United States House of Representatives. As for December 2009 it sat unread in the Senate and unsigned by the President. But there are some glaring loopholes that make this an even larger point of interest that extends beyond the Interweb and into the political arena. So sayeth the bill, any anonymous person can post a statement on the Internet. It can be passed around, repeated, added to and commented on in blog after blog. It can be circulated in chain e-mails. And pretty soon it gathers such steam, its very reach seems to add credibility. In “the Free Flow,” we deal with just such an idea. Could this bill actually be a “stealth” law aimed at protecting individuals from having to disclose information regardless of its validity? GO!

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