The US government is hoping to legislate who is and isn’t a journalist. This is serious stuff. They aren’t deciding who can and can’t get a Pulitzer Prize, instead they’re deciding who goes to jail for publishing leaks “without authorization.”
It’s pretty clear they weren’t driven by principle, rather by a goal. The goal was to craft a definition of journalist that would include the NY Times, the Guardian, Propublica, Huffington Post, and their reporters, and exclude Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. The definition might have had a chance of working if not for the carve-out for Assange, who clearly, in every way, deserves the same protection as a professional reporter.
Manning and Snowden are clearly not reporters, they were employees of the government, either directly or indirectly, and were bound legally to keep confidential the information they were trusted with. In both cases, conscience dictated that they release the information, and I think a good shield law would create exceptions that say that Manning and Snowden, while guilty of crimes, should not go to jail. Every day the Snowden leaks prove more value for those of us who want to understand how government, and all the new technology we love, actually work — never mind the feel-good hype about fighting terrorism and empowering individuals. The people who run the tech companies act more like government officials, with the requisite perks, and we’re left with bedtime stories and no security for our own information, with maximum security for those in government, and their collaborators.
Remember who the government is supposed to be serving. In this case they clearly have such a huge conflict of interest that they should be recused from playing any role in making law about who is and isn’t a journalist. If given a chance they would say that anyone who leaks on a member of Congress or the executive should go to jail, unless it happens to be a member of Congress or an employee of the executive, of course. 🙂
See how crazy this gets.
It gets worse.
We have a highly dysfunctional press, exemplified by reporters who want to debate the character of the leakers, instead of exploring what was revealed by the leaks. In such a world, we should be trying to expand the realm of people empowered to inform us about what our elected representatives are doing with the power we invest in them. Keep them on their toes and looking over their shoulders. Put a little of the fear they put in us in them.
Imho if the government says who’s a journalist, under penalty of law, then there will be no journalism.