September 16, 2013

Federal journalism shield law might not be so good

The moon is blue once in a while, and I agree with Matt Ingram! He's right in that any federal "shield law" which, as part of said law, defines who a journalist is, is problematic at best. On the government side, what it gives, it can then take away. On the traditional media side, the reason they're liking it is arguably as much turf/cartel protection as anything.

Specifically, on the first issue, the current bill, though it does offer some coverage to journalists, it specifically excludes the likes of Wikileaks. Not just implicitly, but explicitly. And, some senators, like Sen. Betty Crocker (Dianne Feinstein) want it to go further and explicitly exclude all blogger-type journalists. That's you,  Glenn Greenwald. And, that part of this bill is only likely to get MORE politicized. So, the Newspaper Association of America and the National Newspaper Association should drop their support for the bill as it now stands.

Period. End of story. The government picking and choosing who a journalist is undercuts the First Amendment and is censorship by the back door. As Ingram says at the top link:
(W)e could just try to defend the First Amendment, which is specifically worded so that it doesn’t just apply to professional journalists, but to anyone involved in a “free press.” At the time the Constitution was written, that included everyone from Ben Franklin to the guy down the street printing pamphlets on his home-built printing press — the 18th-century equivalent of a blog. Instead of broadening the definition, the Senate is in fact severely narrowing it.
Bingo. Given how much journalism is in transition right now, the current shield law ideas that are floating around could cause more of a problem than they fix.

And, along Ingram's line of thought, freedom of the press was one of four freedoms all put in the same amendment, along with religion, speech and assembly. The big idea, to put it into today's terms, was "freedom of communication." That includes the freedom to spread my ideas as well as the freedom not to have to have others' ideas forcibly spread upon me, or the government aiding such people in so doing. (And that's where the rock is for we atheists on freedom FROM religion.)

And, beyond all this, with Members of Congress like Sen. Betty Crocker who continue to write blank checks to the CIA and NSA, their definition of "free speech" is questionable in general.

That's why I say the praise for the "Free Flow of Information" act by the likes of the NNA, is just wrong. (As well as the name of the bill being wrong.)

But, don't hold your breath over media trade groups changing their minds. Once they've got theirs, if they do, "nontraditional journalists" can probably just cut bait, in their minds.

That's just part of the turf angle, though, I beleive. I suspect both groups, and especially the NAA, which represents the big seven-day dailies, would want to keep the likes of Wikileaks in a subservient position. Assange, Manning, Snowden and whoever is next only gets to see the broadly read light of day if they play ball with Big Media.

But, that's wrong thinking too; the major journalism trade groups (and that's what they are, folks) shouldn't get greedy, narrow-minded, or short-sighted. The current, and the previous, presidential administrations have shown no compunction about abusing material witness statutes. Even if a Bradley Manning had not allegedly done anything "wrong," Team Obama or BushCo might have no problem letting him cool his heels for a few weeks, while under investigation as a material witness.

Now part of their praise for the act may be out of legitimate issues. In that case, the trade groups are still thinking wrong, per the First Amendment. And, that's not an "originalist" interpretation. I personally despise originalism in the version touted by the likes of Antonin Scalia and find it questionable even in lesser forms. And Ingram's not even a U.S. citizen; he's Canadian.

Which leads to the observation that it takes observant foreign nationals in many cases to point out what our Constitution actually means. That's sad, but it's nothing new.

That said, the more cyncial side of me has now arisen to use the old journalism phrase, "Follow the money." What if NAA and NNA don't want to protect even top-grade bloggers unless they become dues-paying members?

Apologies for originally misspelling "shield" in the header.


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