Raskin, Lieu, Yarmouth Step Up to Protect a Free Press

July 8, 2021 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and John Yarmuth, D-Ky., are stepping up to protect journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources and to prevent federal law enforcement from abusing subpoena power.

On Wednesday, the three House Democrats introduced the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act to establish a federal statutory privilege intended to safeguard a free and independent press.

Their bill is a companion to legislation introduced in the Senate last week by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Although many states have shield laws or some sort of reporter’s privilege, no such protection exists at the federal level. 

Dozens of journalists have served jail time for refusing to reveal confidential sources, including Raskin’s constituent Brian Karem, who was jailed four times in 1990 and ’91 to protect confidential sources while working as a television reporter.

“The Trump administration was not the first administration that attempted to obtain journalists’ information from third party sources, nor will it be the last if we do not correct the problem at its source,” Raskin said. 

“We need to make good on the constitutional promise of a free press by establishing a federal shield law to protect journalists against the governmental overreach and abuses of subpoena power that may occur from one administration to the next,” he continued. “In American democracy, the press keeps the people informed and holds government accountable. Without a federal shield law, we render reporters and journalists vulnerable to threats of prosecution or jail time simply for doing their jobs.”

A number of recent news reports have revealed that the Justice Department under the Trump administration sought to subpoena phone records and metadata from journalists working at the Washington Post, CNN, and the New Yorker dating to 2017. 

“By targeting journalists’ records and metadata in 2017, the Trump Department of Justice was assaulting the First Amendment,” Lieu said. “Journalists have a constitutional right to report information to the public without interference from the government. We simply can’t have a healthy democracy without freedom of the press. I’m proud to partner with my friend Jamie Raskin on the PRESS Act, which protects journalists from invasive government searches and seizures without adequate notification and recourse.”

“As the first member of the Society of Professional Journalists to be elected to Congress, I know first-hand that a free press cannot function if we do not preserve the ability to protect sources,” Yarmuth said. 

“That is why I am proud to co-sponsor the PRESS Act to safeguard journalists from attacks on the fundamental rights guaranteed to them by the First Amendment. We not only owe it to all Americans to ensure that the truth can be pursued without fear of intimidation, retribution, or prosecution — it is essential to our Democracy,” he added.

The legislation has been endorsed by the Society of Professional Journalists, News Media Alliance, National Association of Broadcasters, Radio Television Digital News Association, News Leaders Association, and MPA – The Association of Magazine Media.

“The Society of Professional Journalists strongly supports the PRESS Act because it protects the rights of journalists and the public by holding the government accountable,” said Matthew T. Hall, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “Without these protections, government officials can put the First Amendment on ice. With them, the rights of a free press and the public we serve will be upheld, and sources who put themselves at risk sharing important information will continue keeping Americans informed.”

“We must do more to protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources used in investigative reporting, which are often crucial to helping to shed light on important public matters critical to preserving our democracy,” said News Media Alliance president and CEO, David Chavern. “We are grateful to Representative Raskin for his leadership in introducing this legislation, as well as Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler for calling attention to the problem of prosecutorial overreach when it comes to seeking source information from reporters.”

Raskin previously introduced a bipartisan federal press shield bill in 2017. That bill was based on a 2007 press shield bill (H.R. 2102) that passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support on a 398-21 vote and was championed by then-Rep. Mike Pence. 

The PRESS Act is similar to Raskin’s previously introduced legislation but will provide stronger protections for journalists against government abuse.

“Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,’” Raskin said. “I’m with Jefferson and the rest of the Founding Fathers. I urge our colleagues in the House and Senate to join us in co-sponsoring this important legislation to safeguard a free and independent press.”

Click here to read the bill text.

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