Panel can't agree on protection for journalists

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday failed to approve a bill that would establish a federal shield law to protect journalists from certain suits requiring them to reveal news sources. Bowing to opposition from the panel’s Republican members, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) decided to postpone markup of the measure to a later date.

Republican opponents including Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said they objected to current language balancing protection for journalists and national security concerns. He said his objections to the measure have not been satisfied by a recent compromise among Democrats and news organizations. Kyl planned to offer numerous amendments that would require protracted debate by the committee.

Journalism orgs including the Radio Television Digital News Assn. had been optimistic that the Judiciary Committee would approve the federal shield bill on its 16th attempt. RTDNA chairman Stacey Woelfel said that while he was disappointed the committee did not vote to pass the bill Thursday, “my hope is that senators can regroup to bring a strong version of the bill back for consideration as soon as possible.”

Woelfel said the continued attempts by opponents to allow the government to override the current law would make it “a paper shield at best.”

The recent compromise OK’d by the White House would offer protection for professional journalists, freelancers, student journalists and bloggers engaged in journalism.

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