Pence pushes for shield bill

Mike Pence
Mike Pence

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has re-introduced legislation designed to protect journalists and the public’s right to know.

H.R. 2932, the Free Flow of Information Act of 2011, would defend the rights of journalists and their use of confidential sources.

The legislation, also called the federal media shield bill, was authored by Pence six years ago and has passed the House of Representatives in the past.

“As a conservative who believes in limited government, I know the only check on government power in real time is a free and independent press,” Pence said Sept. 17 during a speech to the National Conference of Editorial Writers Convention in Indianapolis.

“The Free Flow of Infor­mation Act is not about protecting reporters; it is about protecting the public’s right to know,” he said.

Indiana has one of the most robust reporter shield laws in the country, but it means nothing if a sharp attorney can move the question of sources from a state court into a federal court, said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel.

“While anonymous sources should be used sparingly, sometimes the confidentiality promised by a newspaper may be the only way that significant information that impacts a community, our state or our country can be brought to the light of day,” Key said. “The lack of a federal shield law serves to keep vital information closed to the public’s eyes.”

Compelling reporters to testify, and in particular compelling them to reveal the identity of confidential sources, is a detriment to public interest, Pence said.

“Without the promise of confidentiality, many important conduits of information about our government will be shut down,” he said. “The dissemination of information by the media to the public on matters ranging from the operation of our government to events in our local communities is invaluable to the operation of our democracy.”

Pence noted that the Free Flow of Information Act passed the House in October 2007 by a wide bipartisan majority of 398-21, and it passed the House again in March 2009 by voice vote.

Indiana journalists should consider it a point of pride that Pence, a Hoosier, authored the Free Flow of Information Act and successfully passed it through the U.S. House of Representatives on two occasions, Key said.

“Hopefully the third time is a charm, and H.R. 2932 can be passed by both chambers in 2012,” Key said.