Senate committee defines ‘journalist’ causing hail storm of criticism

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to a definition of a journalist by a 13-5 vote in approving legislation for a shield law for journalists seeking to keep their sources confidential. “…the version to be debated on the Senate floor will cover journalists who had an ’employment relationship’ for one year within the past 20 years, or three months within the past five years, and someone with a ‘substantial track record’ of freelancing in the past five years.” The law would cover student journalists but not WikiLeaks or other groups not considered news outlets. (The Washington Post, September 12, 2013, by Sari Horwitz)

Critics raged over the definition many saying that attempting to define journalism as a job rather than the act of reporting and writing. There is some hope in part of the committee’s definition the shield law would also cover those “whom a federal judge has decided should be able to avail him or herself of the protections of the privilege, consistent with the interests of justice and the protection of lawful and legitimate news gathering activities.” (Politico, September 13, 2013, by Mackenzie Weinger)

Mathew Ingram of paidContent, September 13, 2013, and others pointed out it was a bad idea for the government to decide who is and isn’t a journalist. It amounted to a type of licensing that would limit free and open discussion under the First Amendment and could lead to the government regulating the press by including or excluding entities according to whether it approves of how they’re reporting the news.

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