WASHINGTON, D.C. — Representatives Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Ted Lieu (CA-33), and John Yarmuth (KY-03) introduced the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act. The legislation would safeguard a free and independent press by establishing a federal statutory privilege to protect journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources and prevent federal law enforcement from abusing subpoena power. This bill is the House companion to the Senate version of the PRESS Act introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) last week.
Although many states have shield laws or some sort of reporter’s privilege, no such protection exists at the federal level. Dozens of journalists have served jail time for refusing to reveal confidential sources, including Rep. Raskin’s constituent Brian Karem, who was jailed four times in 1990 and ’91 to protect confidential sources while working as a television reporter.
“The Trump Administration was not the first Administration that attempted to obtain journalists’ information from third party sources, nor will it be the last if we do not correct the problem at its source,” said Rep. Raskin. “We need to make good on the constitutional promise of a free press by establishing a federal shield law to protect journalists against the governmental overreach and abuses of subpoena power that may occur from one Administration to the next. In American democracy, the press keeps the people informed and holds government accountable. Without a federal shield law, we render reporters and journalists vulnerable to threats of prosecution or jail time simply for doing their jobs.”
Recent news reports revealed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Trump Administration sought to subpoena phone records and metadata from journalists working at the Washington Post, CNN, and the New Yorker dating to 2017.
“By targeting journalists’ records and metadata in 2017, the Trump Department of Justice was assaulting the First Amendment,” said Rep. Ted Lieu. “Journalists have a constitutional right to report information to the public without interference from the government. We simply can’t have a healthy democracy without freedom of the press. I’m proud to partner with my friend Jamie Raskin on the PRESS Act, which protects journalists from invasive government searches and seizures without adequate notification and recourse.”
“As the first member of the Society of Professional Journalists to be elected to Congress, I know first-hand that a free press cannot function if we do not preserve the ability to protect sources,” said Rep. Yarmuth. “That is why I am proud to cosponsor the PRESS Act to safeguard journalists from attacks on the fundamental rights guaranteed to them by the First Amendment. We not only owe it to all Americans to ensure that the truth can be pursued without fear of intimidation, retribution, or prosecution — it is essential to our Democracy.”
The legislation is endorsed by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), News Media Alliance (NMA), National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), News Leaders Association, and MPA – The Association of Magazine Media.
“The Society of Professional Journalists strongly supports the PRESS Act because it protects the rights of journalists and the public by holding the government accountable,” said Matthew T. Hall, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “Without these protections, government officials can put the First Amendment on ice. With them, the rights of a free press and the public we serve will be upheld, and sources who put themselves at risk sharing important information will continue keeping Americans informed."
“We must do more to protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources used in investigative reporting, which are often crucial to helping to shed light on important public matters critical to preserving our democracy,” said News Media Alliance President and CEO, David Chavern. “We are grateful to Representative Raskin for his leadership in introducing this legislation, as well as Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler for calling attention to the problem of prosecutorial overreach when it comes to seeking source information from reporters.”
"NAB appreciates Rep. Raskin’s leadership on introducing a federal media shield law that protects a free press,” said the National Association of Broadcasters. “Investigative journalism is vitally important to ensuring accountability of our elected officials and government institutions, uncovering the truth, and keeping Americans informed about critical issues affecting our country. Broadcasters look forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure journalists have the ability to report the news without putting themselves or their sources at risk.”
“While the PRESS Act would restrict the government’s ability to obtain from journalists the identities of confidential news sources, the true beneficiaries would be members of the general public,” said The Radio Television Digital News Association. “Citizens need to know what their government is doing in their name. Journalists help them to do so by seeking and reporting the truth without fear or favor, and the government should not be allowed to impede that effort.”
“MPA commends Senator Wyden and Representative Raskin on their efforts to establish guidelines that reinforce longstanding journalistic protections and update them for the digital age,” said Brigitte Schmidt Gwyn, President & CEO of MPA – The Association of Magazine Media. “We look forward to continuing our work with Congress to support and protect the vital public interest role that a free press plays in American democracy.”
Congressman Raskin previously introduced a bipartisan federal press shield bill in 2017. That bill was based on a 2007 press shield bill (H.R. 2102) that passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support on a 398-21 vote and was championed by then-Congressman Mike Pence. The PRESS Act is similar to Raskin’s previously introduced legislation but will provider stronger protections for journalists against government abuse.
“Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,’” Rep. Raskin concluded. “I’m with Jefferson and the rest of the Founding Fathers. I urge our colleagues in the House and Senate to join us in cosponsoring this important legislation to safeguard a free and independent press.”
Click here to read the bill text.