100 organizations, legal experts urge Senate panel to advance press protection bill

More than 100 journalists, attorneys, professors and watchdog groups signed a letter urging the top brass of the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance a press protection bill “as soon as possible.”

The Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act would limit the federal government’s ability to compel journalists and telecommunication providers to disclose sources or records a journalist obtained or created as part of their work.

“The PRESS Act is a bipartisan shield bill that would protect journalist-source confidentiality, subject to common-sense exceptions, such as cases involving terrorism, other serious emergencies, or journalists suspected of crimes,” according to the letter.

Signatories include organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Motion Picture Association and ProPublica, as well as lawyers and legal experts including Cahill Gordon & Reindel’s Floyd Abrams, who represented The New York Times in the 1972 Pentagon Papers case.

“The Act would also protect journalists against government surveillance through their phone and email providers.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and ranking member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have both co-sponsored the bill, which the House passed earlier this year.

But a markup has not been scheduled in the Senate committee since the measure was introduced last June. The Hill has reached out to spokespersons for Durbin and Graham for comment.

“This threat is not hypothetical,” the letter says, pointing to the recent example of a federal judge who held journalist Catherine Herridge in contempt of court after she refused to reveal her sources for reporting for Fox News.

News outlets and First Amendment advocates decried the chilling effect of the judge’s decision on journalism.

Less than a month after the judge’s ruling, the Freedom of the Press Foundation enlisted former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) of law firm Baker Donelson to lobby for the passage of the PRESS Act as the number of legislative days and vehicles shrinks.

The organizations and legal experts urged the committee to advance the bill, which they said “would immeasurably fortify Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

“Journalists need protection from compelled disclosure of their sources and newsgathering materials, to ensure their ability to report on matters of public interest.”

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