”As a conservative who believes in limited government, I know that the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press.”
That statement made by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., last year is included in an American Society of Newspaper Editors fact sheet making the case for a federal shield law.
Pence successfully led the charge for shield law legislation in the House, and his words illustrate the importance of getting similar legislation through the Senate.
The effort gained momentum last week when all three major presidential candidates endorsed a shield law.
All three are members of the Senate.
The legislation is narrowly written to protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources, except in cases where the national security is threatened.
Journalists have been increasingly subpoenaed in recent years. The ASNE cited such cases involving 40 reporters or media organizations in federal court.
In too many instances, the subpoenas are spawned by lawyers attempting to take shortcuts in the discovery process to routine cases.
Continued movement toward taking away source confidentiality will have a chilling effect on the information that the media provide the public about how government is actually working.
The Bush administration opposes the legislation, but the bill is carefully crafted and prudent.
The law would institute judicial review to determine whether the executive branch has justified cause to use national security as a reason to find out who leaked information, or whether such claims are an attempt to guide evidence of corruption and wrongdoing, the ASNE noted.
That's what checks and balances are about in our system.
Judges could require reporters to reveal their sources in cases that legitimately involve national security interests.
Whistleblowers are a crucial part of the process of ferreting out information about government behavior, and confidential agreements between reporters and sources help to ensure government accountability in many cases.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is one of the senators who have expressed reservations about the definition of a journalist in the legislation, according to the ASNE.
The legislation is too important for the cause of democracy to let narrow disagreements knock it off track.
We encourage Cornyn to work toward a mutually agreeable form of the bill.
—San Antonio Express-News: