House Passes Limited Journalists' Shield Bill

April 8, 2009

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill March 31, 2009, that would offer reporters a limited shield under federal law against being compelled to disclose confidential sources.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which had previously failed to act on a similar bill passed by the House in 2007. The bill (HR 985) was sponsored by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA). It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Barack Obama is considered supportive of reporters' shield legislation, since he sponsored such a bill when in the Senate.

Proponents say the bill is essential for reporters to do their jobs. Sources will rarely tell reporters about waste, fraud, and abuse in government unless they are assured that their identities will be protected. Federal whistleblowers routinely suffer from retaliation by the agencies whose malfeasance is exposed by news media.

All of the states except Wyoming have either laws or court rulings that allow reporters to protect confidential sources. The Texas House passed shield legislation April 7, 2009.

As federal shield legislation goes forward in the U.S. Senate, a key battleground will be the exceptions allowed in the bill. The House-passed bill allows courts to compel reporters to identify sources in cases where it would prevent a terrorist act or prevent harm to national security.