So Much For The 1st Amendment!
Feds To Determine Definition of Journalist
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
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
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
microphone, I still get a jolt of adrenalin at the sight and sound of
emergency vehicles racing toward the scene of human catastrophe and
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.
inbox is filled, most all the time, with breaking news from uncounted
news sources, based all over the globe, and available on the Internet.
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.
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?
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:
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
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.
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