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House Judiciary Committee approves journalist shield law

[JURIST] The US House Judiciary Committee [official website] approved new legislation [HR 2102 materials] on Wednesday shielding reporters from being compelled to disclose confidential sources. Under the bill, journalists could not be forced by prosecutors to reveal their informants unless a court determined that the public interest in disclosure outweighed the public interest in news gathering. Committee chairman Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) [official website] said that the legislation will help to "restore the independence of the press," but some, including senior Republican committee member Lamar Smith (R-TX), say the law would protect the identities of terrorists and tortfeasors. The bill will now travel to debate on the House floor.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has continuously opposed the enactment of a federal reporter shield law, a notion renewed [JURIST report] in June when a DOJ official testified that the current law adequately strikes "a balance between the public's interest in the free dissemination of ideas and information and the public's interest in effective law enforcement and the fair administration of justice." The bill was first proposed in May 2006, partially in response to the controversial 85-day jailing of New York Times journalist Judith Miller [JURIST news archive] after she refused to reveal a source to the federal grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity [JURIST news archive]. The 2006 bill also met opposition from the Justice Department [JURIST report]. AP has more.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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