Who should be protected as a journalist?
New legislation has created both positive and negative reviews about the rights of journalists throughout the country.
In the United States, people hold their first amendment rights close to their heart. While some countries restrict the right of citizens to speak openly and critically about their government, this right, for the most part, has been acknowledged within the country.
Much has changed since the Bill of Rights was first penned. Aside from the obvious societal and technological advancements, the discussion of what should be considered speech has changed as well. Before the amendment was penned, trials like the one of John Peter Zenger who was charged with libel by the British government, illustrated the relationship between the press and the right to the freedom of speech.
Changing state of journalism
The press is changing rapidly in the country today. With the emergence of the internet has come entirely new forms of publication. Many feel that the newspaper industry is "dying" as blogs, online magazines, and Twitter and Facebook increasingly become the places where people go to receive their news.
The lines of journalism are blurring, but it does not necessarily mean that they are gone entirely, which is why a recent new law has been the subject of much praise and criticism recently.
A new "shield"
USA Today reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved the Free Flow of Information Act to move to the Senate floor. Also known as the Media Shield Law, the act offers protection to investigative journalists by affording them the right to keep their sources secret following investigations that leak information.
The legislation received bipartisan support and comes in wake of certain controversies that seem to address these issues directly. With Edward Snowden, Pvt. Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange making headlines as of late, the relationship between investigative journalists and the sources they use to uncover their information is growing more important.
Defining a journalist
Supporters of the bill are in favor of its passing because of the various protections that it now affords to those who publish information speaking out against one institution or another, however, not everyone is happy with its passing.
One of the contingencies that come in the creation of such a law is creating a working definition of what a journalist should be. Under the law, a journalist is someone who has worked with a journalism organization for one year with the last 20, or three months within the last five, along with those who have a track record of free lancing and student journalists.
Controversies with definition
It is the creation of this definition that has some free speech advocates up in arms. With the emergence of so-called "citizen journalists" these parameters could limit these rights to only certain people. MLive discusses a similar piece of legislation in which state lawmakers in Michigan have created a similar definition, aimed at preventing ambulance chasing lawyers from getting access information surrounding an accident, stating that such sources would only be available to "journalists."
The news source discusses whether or not journalists should be "licensed" like lawyers or if the practice is one that should be open to everyone. With the changing look of reporting on the internet becoming more prominent, this opens up the question of what in fact a journalist should look like.
During times such as the Arab Spring, many news outlets looked to footage gathered by people who were on the scene and participating in the protests themselves to enhance their reports. A variety of bloggers have emerged as prominent spokes people on various subjects despite only looking to themselves as publishers.
The new Media Shield Law is important for the protection of journalists, however, it should also raise questions about how the American public defines journalism as well.