WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Senate panel on Thursday approved legislation designed to protect reporters and the news media from having to reveal their confidential sources after narrowing the definition of a journalist and establishing which formats — traditional and online — provide news to people worldwide.
On a 13-5 vote, the Judiciary Committee cleared the way for the full Senate to consider the measure. The vote came just months after the disclosure that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed almost two months’ worth of telephone records for 21 phone lines used by reporters and editors for The Associated Press and secretly used a search warrant to obtain some emails of a Fox News journalist.
The Justice Department took the actions in looking into leaks of classified information to the news organizations. The AP received no advance warning of the subpoena.
“One of the things that protect democracy is the free flow of information,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who mentioned his own connection to journalism. Leahy’s parents, Alba and Howard, published a weekly newspaper before selling it and starting a printing business.
Criticism of the collection of the phone records and other material without any notice to the news organizations prompted President Barack Obama to order Attorney General Eric Holder to review the department’s policy. The bill would incorporate many of the changes proposed by Holder in July.