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Journalists ‘outraged’ at Obama for media shield bill changes

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The Society of Professional Journalists said it is “outraged” over the Obama administration’s alterations to a bill which would leverage a “shield law” nation-wide to protect reporters and their sources.

The Free Flow of Information Act, the group said on Friday, would have offered significant protections against journalists being forced to testify over the use of anonymous sources. However, “[the] administration this week sent to Congress sweeping revisions to a ‘media shield’ bill that would significantly weaken its protections…” reported The New York Times on Sept. 30.

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During the presidential campaign, then-Illinois Senator Obama supported the legislation and added his name to a list of cosponsors of the Senate’s media shield bill.

“Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who spoke later at an AP luncheon, has endorsed the shield law to protect reporters but told editors that courts should decide whether a confidential source deserves protection,” reported USA Today in April, 2008.

“This raises, I think, a broader issue of civil liberties and our various freedoms, at a time when we have real enemies and real conflict,” Senator Obama reportedly said.

“Not long ago, President Obama was a key supporter of this bill, but after one meeting with his national security team he appears to have been scared into making this poor decision,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said in a media advisory. “President Obama was elected by the people, for the people. It’s time for him to stand up and support legislation that gives those people the power to have better oversight of their government.”

The press release carried a plainly stated headline: “SPJ is outraged by Obama administration changes to shield law bill”.

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Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Arlen Specter (D-PA), who sponsor the bill, joined the SPJ in finding fault with the administration’s alterations.

The Times added: “Mr. Specter called the proposed changes ‘totally unacceptable,’ saying they would gut meaningful judicial review. And in a statement, Mr. Schumer said: ‘The White House’s opposition to the fundamental essence of this bill is an unexpected and significant setback. It will make it hard to pass this legislation.'”

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt, the paper also noted, said that any administration support for the bill was still a change from the Bush years, during which the president considered such protection for reporters to be an affront to executive power.

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