Thursday, February 12, 2009

Keeping Us Informed of Their Misdeeds

A pair of our local congressmen--Democrat Rick Boucher and Republican Bob Goodlatte--who have worked closely on a number of issues (especially technology) are lining up on the side of good news reporting with a new bill they presented today to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill is the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009 and it deserves to pass because it will help reporters who must protect sources to do with without facing potential jail time. Boucher and Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, are the bill's co-sponsors, but it has substantial patronage. In the last congress, it advanced on a vote of 398-21, but was not taken up by the Senate.

Boucher explains, "Often the best source of information about public corruption or misdeeds in a large corporation or charity is the person on the inside of the organization who would like to bring the facts to public light. That person has a lot to lose and to avoid punishment at the hands of supervisors will only divulge the information to a reporter if promised confidentiality. If confidentiality cannot be assured, the public may never learn of the wrongdoing and never have the opportunity to take corrective action."
Said Pence, "The time has come for Congress to enact a federal media shield statute. This is not about protecting reporters. It's about protecting the public's right to know. As a conservative who believes in limited government, believe that the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press.

"The act would provide a qualified privilege to journalists to shield confidential sources from disclosure except in certain situations, such as when our national security is at stake. Ensuring that reporters can keep sources confidential is vital to ensuring the free flow of information to the public.

This is legislation that, like the First Amendment, isn't just about the press. It is about your right to know what your government--or any other public institution--is doing in your name and with your money. It is vital to keep the bearer of the information free of the fear of reprisal. That is the intent of the First Amendment: it is about information flow and understanding how your government works and why.

A government afraid of its citizens wouldn't even consider this legislation. i think passage would be a good sign that maybe these old boys in the halls of Congress think more of us than we imagine.

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