House Passes Bill That Would Give Reporters New Protections.

Jan 19, 2024

Brendan Hoffman

The House Of Representatives on Thursday unanimously passed a bill that would prevent the government from compelling reporters to reveal their confidential sources or research files. The Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act or PRESS Act (H.R. 4250) would also protect journalists’ data held by third parties like phone and internet companies from being secretly seized by the government without the opportunity to challenge those demands in court.

The bill has broad support among journalist organizations, including the Radio Television Digital News Association and the National Association of Broadcasters.

“This legislation acknowledges the critical role of journalists in our democracy – from exposing injustices to educating and informing the public,” said NAB President Curtis LeGeyt. “The PRESS Act protects journalists’ ability to maintain confidential sources, ensuring they can perform their duties without the threat of retaliation. America’s broadcasters thank the cosponsors of this legislation for their leadership and urge the Senate to move quickly to pass this bill.”

The House version of the PRESS Act was introduced in June 2023 by Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA). After the bill advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee last July, Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said there were bipartisan reasons for both sides to support it. “Over the past several decades, Democratic and Republican presidential administrations have attempted to crack down on leaks of classified information to media outlets,” Nadler said then. He said that included a Trump administration effort targeting the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN, as well as an Obama administration focus on a Fox News reporter which went so far as to list him as a coconspirator in an espionage case.

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by Ron Wyden (D-OR) with bipartisan support. He has called for efforts to force reporters to disclose the identity of their sources a “finger in the eye of the First Amendment.”

Sponsors of the legislation also point out that although the bill shields journalists’ communications records from the government, there are narrow exceptions for terrorism and the threat of imminent violence or harm.

Despite laws in 49 states and the District of Columbia protecting journalists from being required to reveal their sources, there is no federal protection offering similar limits on law enforcement.

“Journalists shouldn’t be forced to choose between burning their sources or going to jail,” Seth Stern, Director of Advocacy, Freedom of the Press Foundation, said Thursday in a statement. “With the House’s bipartisan vote approving the PRESS Act, Congress comes one step closer to providing powerful protection against surveillance of journalists. Now it’s up to the Senate to finish the job by passing this historic legislation and sending it to the president’s desk to sign.”
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