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Shield law would protect journalists, public

The House Judiciary Committee approved important legislation Wednesday for the public that might fly a little under the radar screen.

But it shouldn’t.

The committee began forming a federal shield law for journalists, which was prompted after New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for 85 days for not revealing sources in the Bush Administration who talked with her about CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Miller eventually testified that she had conversations with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff at the time. Libby was later convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice before President Bush commuted the sentence last month.

The legislation tries to strike a balance between the free flow of information to the public and the execution of justice.

“(It) helps restore the independence of the press so that it can perform its essential duty of getting information out to the public,” Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said in an Associated Press report.

The legislation aims to prevent journalists from being forced to reveal their sources, with some specific exemptions.

Journalists on all levels, particularly the national level, are often accused of being too liberal, too conservative, unfair and on and on. But journalists seldom get labeled what they are, advocates for the public when it comes to the monitoring of the government.

Legislation like the kind that was approved in the Judiciary Committee is welcomed news for the news industry, but should be equally celebrated by the public. The reality is that some of the necessary information that comes out of Washington would not do so if confidential sources believe journalists are becoming more compromised by the courts.

The time for the federal shield law is now, despite objections from the Justice Department.

As I said last week, media on all levels have strict guidelines on using confidential sources. But there can be no doubt that if those sources did not come forward the public would not be informed on countless issues.

Wednesday’s action in the Judiciary Committee is a step in the right direction for journalists. And that means it’s a step in the right direction for you.

Rick Greene is the managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441, ext. 12, or rick.greene@irontontribune.com