“We have a need for a shield law…but we shouldn’t be worrying so much about who is a journalist and worry more about protecting ‘acts of journalism’.” – Craig Aaron, President of Free Press
Following the seizure of AP phone records in mid-May, 2013, the U.S. Senate introduced a media shield law to protect journalists from revealing their sources without a court order. Recently, however, a debate has arisen over who qualifies as a journalist and thereby those protections. On the August 16th A Public Affair, sub host Yuri Rashkin was joined by Craig Aaron, President and C.E.O of Free Press, to discuss the bill and controversy.
Aaron maintains that the argument should not focus on defining “professional” journalists, but on defining acts of journalism. For example, someone filming police brutality and making public that information, whether employed by a news organization or not, should be entitled to protections. Moreover, the burden of proof must be on the government to show that the sources of these acts of journalism must be compromised. In addition, although it’s controversial, he believes a law with protections is absolutely necessary. Under an administration that has prosecuted whistle blowers more than any other, journalists must be able to ensure that they can continue to protect their sources, report the truth and bring transparency to the public.
When surveyed by State of the First Amendment, only 1% of Americans believe that freedom of the press is our most important freedom. Although journalists are trained to be balanced, Aaron argues that on this issue they must take a side and defend themselves and their work to both the public and the government. In addition, public involvement to defend the press is more important than ever.