Lawmakers in Washington are again weighing in on who should and should not qualify as a journalist—and the outcome looks pretty grim for bloggers, freelancers, and other non-salaried journalists.
On July 12, the Justice Department released its new guidelines on investigations involving the news media in the wake of the fallout from the leak scandals involving the monitoring of AP and Fox News reporters. While the guidelines certainly provide much-needed protections for establishment journalists, as independent journalist Marcy Wheeler explained, the DOJ’s interpretation of who is a “member of the news media” is dramatically narrower than the definition provided in the Privacy Protection Act and effectively excludes bloggers and freelancers from protection. This limiting definition is causing alarm among bloggers like Glenn Reynolds on the right as well.
While the DOJ’s effort to limit the scope of who can be recognized as a journalist is problematic, it doesn’t have teeth. Guidelines are, well, guidelines. But the report is part of a broader legislative effort in Washington to simultaneously offer protection for the press while narrowing the scope of who is afforded it. Importantly, Congress introduced federal shield bills in May—both ironically named the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2013”—that arguably would exclude bloggers, freelancers, and other non-salaried journalists from protection because they are not included within the bills’ narrow definition of who qualifies as a journalist.
If these bills—support for which the White House reaffirmed in its DOJ report—pass without change, Congress effectively will create two tiers of journalists: the institutional press licensed by the government, and everyone else. That’s a pretty flimsy shield if what we are really trying to protect is the free flow of information.
Read more at the Electronic Frontier Foundation