Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why I Oppose Shield Laws

The freedom of the press applies to all American citizens, not just to self-appointed--or worse, government sanctioned--"journalists".

How will the government know to whom it will grant this federal shield? It will be necessary for the federal government to define “journalists.” It is, in effect, a federal license to practice the First Amendment. Won’t it be a comfort when your license to practice journalism is granted by the likes of John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales?

We can go anywhere and cover what we please because we are American citizens. Every citizen has always had freedom of the press—the freedom to print a pamphlet like Tom Paine, start a Kiplinger newsletter, or write a book like Upton Sinclair. The Internet has made it even easier to practice citizen journalism.

When the government starts to decide who is qualified to be a journalist, where does that leave bloggers? Freelance writers? Documentary filmmakers? People writing books based on investigative journalism? Where does it leave the average American who wants to speak out about their government? Can the government decide Chris Cillizza (Washington Post blogger) is a journalist but that Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) is not?

There is a false argument raging on the Internet about whether bloggers are “journalists” and whether they should be accorded the same rights and privileges. This is idiocy. The rights and privileges belong to every American citizen, whether they work for a newspaper or whether they even have a blog. For it to be any other way the government would have to be able to define what constitutes journalism. Any takers?

I don't want the government creating a separate class of citizens free from judicial orders.


Anonymous said...

OK -- let's set aside the needless partisan bashing of Ashcroft and Gonzales by the author of the quote. I'd trust either of them above any Democrat who has served in that office in my lifetime, and any of the likely appointees of the current Democrat contenders. Besides, such partisanship merely serves to weaken the important argument.

The reality is that the position you and the author of the piece stake out is EXACTLY what the Founders would have said on the issue. All you needed to qualify as a "journalist" in the 1790s was a press, ink, and paper. The farce of "objectivity" wasn't a part of the concept, either -- consider folks like Fenno, Freneau, Bache and other editors of the highly partisan Federalist and Jeffersonian press of the era.

Somewhere along the way, America developed this notion of the “journalist” as some sort of royal priesthood, entitled to special rights and consideration that the ordinary rabble did not enjoy. That was, in large part, because of the practical obstacles to publishing a newspaper as our cities and nation grew larger – much less the costs inherent in broadcasting over the airwaves.

But the reality is, as you say, that the freedom of the press is a right that belongs to every citizen. The Internet has now returned us to the days of unfettered exercise of freedom of the press by the people -- and exposed the absurd claims of the "working journalist" to some special status. What makes my work as a blogger any less deserving of protection than that of a reporter at my local paper? Why should I be excluded from events or subject to more intrusive searches than said reporter? And why should their sources and promises of confidentiality be granted greater privilege than mine? The answer should be clear to any thinking individual -- NOTHING!

Anonymous said...

"I don't want the government creating a separate class of citizens free from judicial orders."

What about priests?

They are not forced to testify under oath about what people tell them.

Darren said...

While I prefer not to go off on a tangent here, I'll answer your question: I don't like the priest exception. I accept the lawyer exception.