Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bloggers equated to terrorists... the House Judiciary Committee, of all places.

At least, in their bipartisan attack, they've place amateur bloggers on a level with terrorists; bloggers-for-profit are ok.

Earlier this month, I wrote a post, that among other things, linked to an article from The Register (UK) discussing the House Judiciary Committee's markup of HR2102, the Free Flow Of Information Act.

My concern at the time was a segment about an amendment to the bill that narrowed the definition of protected journalist to one that "make financial gain or livelihood from their journalism."

During the post, I expressed concern that the amendment was intended to protect corporate media conglomerates from amateur competition.

It may yet prove to be so, but the committee's discussion was couched in other, less directly commercial, terms.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), discussing his amendment (starting on page 33 of the markup hearing transcript) -
First, to be a journalist entitled to the protection, the person must engage in journalism for financial gain or livelihood, excluding the casual blogger who could easily create a blog just for the purpose of claiming the benefit of the shield. Genuine bloggers who are regularly engaged in information gathering normally would gain some financial benefit from their activities and would therefore meet the test.

To extend the shield beyond them to casual and non-regular bloggers would create an avenue for virtually anyone to avoid compelled testimony by creating a simple blog that carries the information in question, and it is not our intent to create a coverage that is that broad. The financial gain or livelihood language prevents that from happening.

Now, it's easy to believe that Rep. Boucher's amendment is meant to benefit corporate media; after all, according to, more than 1/2 of the contributions for his 2006 campaign came from business PACs (approx. $800K out of $1.4 million total). However, it is possible that he simply doesn't understand that, as heretical as it may seem, most people who blog do so for reasons other than money. In fact, many of the most relevant bloggers active today are proudly amateur.

Hmmmm....wonder which Rep. Boucher prefers - being called 'corrupt' or being called 'clueless'?

Of course, things could be worse - Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), normally a voice of sanity, thinks that even the amended definition of journalist is "extraordinarily broad."

From page 38 of the transcript -
I appreciate, for example, the attempt to narrow the definition of a covered journalist, but I think it is still extraordinarily broad. This would not have been an issue 10 or 20 years ago, but I think it is an issue now.

Note: In the plus column for Rep. Schiff, he *did* take issue with the fact that the bill provides less protection to journalists and their sources in civil cases than it does in criminal and national security matters.

From page 39 of the transcript -
A couple other concerns I have about the bill is that it gives more protection in civil cases than in criminal cases. The standard for civil cases is fairly low. The privilege can be pierced if it would help lead to a successful completion of the matter. That is very broadly defined and much more broadly defined than the higher standard you would need to meet to pierce the privilege in a criminal case.

And then, of course, there was the statement by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN).

First, he spoke about how important that any journalists' shield bill not be usable by terrorists, before segueing into the change in the definition of 'journalist' (the financial gain clause), giving in support of the change what is perhaps the most damning fact *against* the change.

From page 44 -
This is similar to the requirement in the Texas shield bill, and I think it a good requirement to tighten up the definition...

OMFG - He wants to pattern a civil liberties protection measure after the laws in Texas, a state that just executed its 400th inmate since the reinstitution of capital punishment there in 1982!!

Even the Society of *Professional* Journalists had a problem with the language of the amendment.

From an SPJ press release -
“While it's important to distinguish responsible journalists from casual bloggers, the more narrow the language defining who is a journalist, the less impact the bill will have,” said Christine Tatum, SPJ's national president and an assistant features editor at The Denver Post. “I encourage Mr. Pence and Mr. Boucher to define 'journalist' as broadly as possible, and I offer SPJ's assistance in crafting this new and crucially important language.”

On page 42 of the transcript, Rep. Pence refers to "many weeks' worth of negotiations."

Obviously, the esteemed members of the Committee didn't feel it was necessary to protect the civil liberties of average Americans, nor did they see fit to listen to the concerns of the *professionals* their amendment was purported to protect. They did, however, protect commercial interests.

Wonder who was actually sitting in on the negotiations?

Time to start contacting our Congresscritters to urge them to amend the bill with a broader definition of journalist.

Anybody have suggestions on language? It'll be easier to gain support if we provide a specific alternative.

Note: The text of the amendment isn't available online as yet. A phone call to the Judiciary Committee elicited the explanation that the delay is due to the recess schedule, and that the amendment language should be posted within a week or so.


1 comment:

Desert Beacon said...

I hope you'll post the amendment text or a link when you get it. Excellent commentary -- this, from an unpaid, unremunerated "amateur" blogger.