by Rep. Marlin Stutzman
Without a free and independent press, transparency and accountability are just cheap and cynical slogans. The American public depends on whistleblowers who will courageously expose government corruption and independent journalists who report the facts.
During this extraordinary time in our nation’s history, as Americans come face to face with our government’s vast capabilities in a digital age, recent reporting on information provided by whistleblowers reminds us of journalism’s essential role in democracies. Additionally, the unsettling revelation that the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently targeted journalists with The Associated Press and Fox News makes the need for common-sense protections inescapably clear. It’s time for Congress to pass and President Barack Obama to sign the Free Flow of Information Act.
Enshrined in the First Amendment, freedom of speech and the press form the bedrock of our experiment in self-government. Thomas Jefferson’s admonition that “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press” is as true today as it was two centuries ago. As a conservative, I believe that a free and independent press provides the most swift and effective check on government power.
The free flow of information ensures that powerful public officials are held accountable to the men and women who chose them. The public’s right to know is essential to a country of, by and for the people.
Unfortunately, these freedoms are under attack. Just last month, Americans discovered that Obama’s DOJ secretly obtained two months of phone calls of reporters and editors for the AP. Additionally, we’ve learned that the DOJ named a Fox News reporter a “co-conspirator” in an investigation and Attorney General Eric Holder personally approved the seizure of the journalist’s personal e-mails. Regrettably, these two cases are part of a growing trend, as Holder has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to target more officials for alleged leaks than any previous administration combined.
The recent revelations notwithstanding, while the number of investigations grows, the number of whistleblowers is quickly fading. As POLITICO reported recently, many reporters have noted that the administration’s crackdown is preventing the flow of information. Without the assurance that journalists will not be forced to reveal their sources, there’s little reason to believe that the chill on investigative journalism will end. That’s why I am proud to co-sponsor legislation that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence introduced and championed during his service in Congress and has been reintroduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas).
The Free Flow of Information Act is a common-sense solution designed to ensure real transparency and accountability in Washington. This media shield legislation defends our First Amendment freedoms by protecting journalists from being forced to reveal their confidential news sources in federal proceedings. By setting clear criteria that provide privilege for reporters, except in crucial cases of national security, we can strike a balance between the public’s right to know and the government’s proper execution of the law.
The bill does not give reporters a special permit to break the law, and it certainly doesn’t allow the media to stand between prosecutors and criminals. It simply gives journalists the ability to report appropriate information to the public, free from government intimidation. The idea is simple — reporters should report and law enforcement should enforce the laws.
Forty-nine states, including Indiana, have already adopted common-sense media shield laws and it’s time for the federal government to join them. Congress should pass and the president should sign the Free Flow of Information Act to make sure that the DOJ focuses on putting criminals behind bars instead of harassing journalists.
Washington’s power comes from the American people. Our experiment in self-government will thrive as long as men and women are able to make informed decisions about their leaders and the direction of their county. Americans have a right to a free and independent press. Our Founding Fathers secured that right more than 200 years ago. Today, we have an obligation to carry on that legacy of freedom for future generations.