Feds To Determine Definition of Journalist
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
"A long life in journalism convinced me many presidents ago that there should be a large air space between a journalist and the head of a state." ... Walter Lippmann
I was a member of "the press" for a number of decades. I carried press credentials in my wallet at all times. Even after retirement I carried that press card for many years, reluctant to part with it. Once a "news hound" always a news hound as the expression goes. (If you have not heard THAT one, you were never a reporter.)
Even in retirement, it was many, MANY, years before I could comfortably allow a flashing red or blue light, or the sound of a wailing siren, pass me by without acquiescing to the overwhelming urge to grab the closest form of transportation and give chase like a bat from the lower climes.
Even today, some thirty years after I hung up my pencil and pad, my recorder, my
As I write these few lines, a police scanner sits flashing and alternately burping out -- or spewing out -- info from the various first responders from the sparkling Atlantic ocean -- to my east -- to the picturesque rolling hills of the piedmont -- to my west.
My inbox is filled, most all the time, with breaking news from uncounted news sources, based all over the globe, and available on the Internet.
In retirement, I chose to spend my time commenting on current events and politics. It is something I did as a part of my "job" when I was "active" as a reporter, or a journalist.
Yes, I have a blog (INSIGHT on Freedom at: http://www.insightonfreedom.blogspot.com/) But, I don't particularly consider myself a "blogger" so much as a "commentator" who happens to have a blog.
Each day, in the wee hours, I post -- and I send by e-mail -- my latest rant, or commentary, to multiple news and commentary sites on the web and to private subscribers who have asked to receive it.
So. Am I a journalist? I have a journal ... a blog. Was I a journalist back when folks actually PAID me for doing what I did/do?
What's the difference between what I, and thousands of others, do today and what Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams did back in the 1700's?
... And why the dickens am I even asking?
As you might have suspected, it's the federal government ... again!
The claim, up front, anyway, is that this is the government's way of defining who, exactly, IS a journalist and who, exactly, IS NOT a journalist.
We see it a tad differently, however. From our perspective, they (the government) detects a chink through which they believe they can curb the press in America and bring it to heel -- and in doing so -- virtually crush the 1st Amendment.
It's called a "Shield Law." And, in our estimation it is extremely dangerous to a free press. A free press is absolutely necessary for the survival of this constitutional, representative, republic. I am convinced a federal shield law would endanger a free press in America.
Consider this: "On its face, the proposed shield law doesn’t affect the First Amendment, which at any rate doesn’t guarantee anybody’s right to publish whatever they want. The bill simply adds extra protections against being forced to testify about sources for established reporters and freelancers with a “considerable” amount of publishing experience. It also allows a judge to make a declaration as to who’s a journalist and who’s not in an attempt to build the shield as wide as possible." SOURCE: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/2013/0914/Drudge-hates-new-shield-bill-but-is-defining-journalist-really-fascist
Here in North Carolina,we already have a press shield law, thank you very much. North Carolina's "reporter's privilege" or "shield law" is codified at N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8-53.11.
Under NC law a journalist is defined as:
(1) Journalist. - Any person, company, or entity, or the employees, independent contractors, or agents of that person, company, or entity, engaged in the business of gathering, compiling, writing, editing, photographing, recording, or processing information for dissemination via any news medium. - SOURCE: http://www.rcfp.org/north-carolina-privilege-compendium/shield-law-statute#sthash.TU2rPAlX.dpuf
"The shield law became effective October 1, 1999, and applies only to information or documents prepared while acting as a journalist on or after that date.
In summary, the shield law grants journalists a broad but qualified privilege against disclosure of newsgathering information. The protection extends to virtually everyone connected with the publication or distribution of news information, including, but not limited to, reporters, photographers, stringers, and freelance reporters. All newsgathering activity is protected, so long as the activity is related to the business of publication or distribution of news via print, broadcast, or other electronic means. In addition, the statute protects all newsgathering information, regardless of whether the information is confidential or non-confidential. Finally, the protection extends to all legal proceedings, including criminal, civil, grand jury and quasi-judicial (i.e., administrative) proceedings." SOURCE: http://www.rcfp.org/north-carolina-privilege-compendium/shield-law-statute#sthash.TU2rPAlX.dpuf
So what's wrong with having a federally codified definition of who, exactly, is a journalist? (I mean, of course, other than the troubling fact that once there is a federal definition of journalist, most states with shield laws will move to change their individual state laws to align with the federal code.)
Think about it for a moment.
The first amendment says the government cannot abridge the freedom of the press. BUT -- if the government defines who IS a journalist -- and who ISN'T -- then they have just abridged that freedom.
In an article entitled: "Don’t let the government define who’s a journalist," Mark B. Evans, writing for http://tucsoncitizen.com says the following: "The First Amendment says the Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press. But if the government defines who’s a journalist, all those outside that definition are having their free press rights abridged." SOURCE: http://tucsoncitizen.com/mark-evans/archives/865
See the problem?
Mr. Evans goes on to say: "Democracy requires a free press. A bill – no matter how valuable to news gathering – that opens the door to the government defining who gets to be a journalist is a bill that appears to protect a free press but in fact endangers it." SOURCE: http://tucsoncitizen.com/mark-evans/archives/865
In his excellent article Mr. Evans explains: " ... If journalists give in to government definition of journalist in order get the federal shield law they’ve long sought, they may soon get government regulation of the press they never thought possible." SOURCE: http://tucsoncitizen.com/mark-evans/archives/865
And what of Bloggers? Want to bet which side of the definition of "journalist" bloggers will be assigned by a new federal shield law?
Pardon my paranoia, but this shield law business doesn't pass the smell test. I am convinced it is contrived (as so much is these days) by the government as a means to by-pass the 1st Amendment and effectively gag conservative bloggers who have proven to be thorns in the side of big Marxist government in the US.
I expect such a law will pass the democrat controlled US Senate. It has a much less chance of survival in the US House of Representatives where the people still have SOME say in their government.
I will, however, be contacting my Representative and insisting that he vote against any such bill should it reach the House floor for a vote.
© J. D. Longstreet