Freedom of Speech for some…

by fmhilton

I nearly did not post an entry today, because I thought I’d rest a week or so before getting back into writing about things that concern me, and others.

That was before my husband sent me the link to an article that has not only raised my hackles, but has angered me beyond belief.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Nowhere in this paragraph does it delineate whose speech qualifies as free. It does not qualify who constitutes ‘the press’. It covers everyone who writes for the public, including bloggers, such as yours truly.

Under this amendment, I am protected from being censored or reprimanded (with some restraints, of course) for writing what I think.

Or so I thought.

This news item is pretty bothersome then, to me and others like me:

Senators ponder if bloggers deserve First Amendment protection

As the U.S. Senate continues to debate a national law to protect journalists from protecting their sources, two Senators believe unpaid bloggers and websites like WikiLeaks shouldn’t get extended First Amendment protections.

To properly reference this, though, you have to remember that under some circumstances, reporters can be compelled to disclose their sources under a court order. That was recently decided in the Court of Appeals from the Fourth Circuit last month:

A July 2013 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reaffirmed that the First Amendment doesn’t allow reporters to protect confidential sources in federal criminal cases.

So why am I concerned? Because a new law being proposed that this development came from is being debated in the Senate, and it’s a stronger shield law that would cover all journalists rights in protecting their sources in reporting. It would also cover unpaid journalists, such as bloggers and Wikileaks.

The Senate Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 would establish a national “shield law” that would give journalists protection from testifying in situations when investigators want the sources of confidential information used in media reports.

There are two Senators, however, who want to limit the scope of who a journalist is: Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin, who both believe that only ‘recognized’ journalists should be covered under this law.

Charles Schumer, though, gets my vote for his intelligent retort to Feinstein’s attempt to limit the safeguards of this bill:

There are people who do journalism in different ways than they used to,” Schumer said. “They should not be excluded by this bill.”

According to Feinstein and Durbin, because I’m not a paid reporter, I shouldn’t get the same protection of any source as my friend Lynn Schmidt, who works for a small local newspaper.

It’s because I’m not controlled, I do assume. That my opinions don’t count as speech, nor do they have any impact on news. So I’m out of luck should I ever find a story that has a news aspect that involves protecting sources of information.

I’ll remember that next time I do any writing-that I’m not a ‘real journalist’ according to these two Senators who would like to limit free speech protections for anyone who doesn’t have a media employer.

Other bloggers should take note of this as well. We could all use some protection from being legally unprotected in our writing, and this is a long over-due bill designed to remedy that possibility.

We can hope it passes, but right now it has been tabled, for further debate until September.