Thursday, June 6, 2013

Shield Law Sponsor Not Sure Bloggers "Deserve" Free Speech Rights

"You can sit in your mother’s basement and chat away, I don't care," says Lindsey Graham (R-SC) but then asks if "they [bloggers] deserve First Amendment protection?" when it comes to classified information.

Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
J.P. Hicks

Who knew the speech of the media and bloggers wasn't already protected?

The U.S. senate is working on a media shield law that would protect the media against government retaliation for exposing sensitive information.

I thought the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights made it quite clear that all speech was already protected: 
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Since the government has been on the rampage to punish whistleblowers who have exposed government crimes, perhaps additional clarity is needed. However, it seems that the politicians are using the media shield law to decide who gets free speech protection and who doesn't.
The shield law is legislation would protect reporters' privilege, or the right of news reporters to refuse to testify as to information or sources of information obtained during the news gathering and dissemination process.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is the leading GOP sponsor of the media shield law, made some disturbing statements that the law may not include bloggers. In doing so, he clearly shows his disdain for bloggers.

"You can sit in your mother’s basement and chat away, I don't care. But when you start talking about classified programs, that’s when it gets to be important," he said during a Free Times interview. "So, if classified information is leaked out on a personal website or [by] some blogger, do they have the same First Amendments rights as somebody who gets paid [in] traditional journalism?"

"Who is a journalist is a question we need to ask ourselves," Graham told reporters Wednesday. "Is any blogger out there saying anything—do they deserve First Amendment protection? These are the issues of our times."

Bloggers have been excluded from state shield laws in the past.  In 2011, an Oregon court ruled that an investigative blogger was not eligible for shield law protections because she wasn't a "journalist".  

"Although defendant is a self-proclaimed 'investigative blogger' and defines herself as 'media,' the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system," the judge wrote. "Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the [Oregon journalist shield] law."

In the same light, bloggers have also been prosecuted for posting health advice without a government recognized license:


As the government draws scorn for prosecuting Private Bradley Manning to the fullest extent of the law for alleged leaking of classified information and the DOJ spying on the Associated Press and other news organizations, this media shield law is gaining a groundswell of bipartisan support.

Yet if this legislation is used to determine who is permitted, licensed or authorized to talk about "classified" programs and who isn't, it will likely do more harm to free speech than it protects.

Cynical, I know. But Graham is no stranger to destroying the rights of U.S. citizens.

Graham aggressively advocated for the destruction of due process for American citizens during the 2012 NDAA debate. He told people suspected of having ties to terrorism to "Shut up. You don't get a lawyer."  Sadly, Congress voted with Graham, so suspicion now equals guilt and indefinite detention without trial in America.

Graham said of the Boston bombing suspect, "The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights." He applauded martial law tactics to hunt down the suspect and only wished there'd been a drone in the sky.  He also said judicial oversight of targeted drone killings would be "the worst thing in the world."

I only point out Graham's recent history to illustrate that he isn't exactly the lawmaker I'd trust to protect the anyone's rights. And if Graham's attitude toward bloggers is any indication, bloggers' speech will not be protected in the same way that a "authorized" journalist would be.

Government transparency is just as vital to a thriving democracy as an independent media. I have a strong suspicion that this media shield law will lessen both transparency and independence. 

It will likely give the government more control over the flow of information through a more entrenched corporate media, while simultaneously forcing small bloggers to join larger organizations to gain this "protection" but lose their independence.

If bloggers don't demand the same protections as all journalists, they're not likely to get them.  All bloggers should contact their representatives to demand that they "deserve" free speech protections just like all Americans should.

J.P. Hicks is an entrepreneur, info-activist, pro blogger, editor of BlogTips.com and author of Secrets to Making Money with a Free Blog. Follow @ Twitter, or like on Facebook.
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