In September 2013 the US Senate Judiciary Committee voted to set the limits of ‘journalism’, clearly defining whistleblowers as illegitimate sources and freelance or independent journalists as not ‘proper’ journalists.
The Free Flow of Information Act (FFIA) purports to “maintain the free flow of information to the public”, but in practice it represents a move towards state-sanctioned journalism. The bill is now awaiting a full Senate vote.
FFIA includes what has been termed the “WikiLeaks clause”, whereby those “whose principal function… is to publish primary source documents that have been disclosed to such person or entity without authorization” are exempt from their definition of ‘journalist’, and thus from protection under the law. As such, Chuck Schumer D-NY, a sponsor of the bill, admitted that the bill’s purported protections are “probably not enough” to cover Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported the Snowden documents.
Carey Shenkman, a specialist in First Amendment law, argues that FFIA in fact “sets the stage to punish whomever the government decides are ‘illegitimate’ journalists”.
Tricia Todd writes in the Huffington Post that FFIA “specifically targets those who publish in what some members of Congress would deem questionable outlets, such as watchdog groups or independent blogs”. She points out that FFIA ”would not necessarily cover an independent journalist like Alexa O’Brien, who almost single-handedly ensured in-depth investigative reporting on the Chelsea Manning trial. Ironically, major news outlets that couldn’t bother to send a reporter to court frequently cited much of O’Brien’s ’blogging’.”
In an article for Truthdig, Shenkman describes FFIA as “part of a broader campaign to try to box out organisations that have the courage to give a voice to whistleblowers”. This is despite the fact that whistleblowers have been behind some of the most important journalism in recent years, exposing war crimes, human rights abuses and transnational mass surveillance.