On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed media shield legislation that is intended to protect journalists from having to cooperate in government investigations — but lawmakers made sure to limit who can be defined as a journalist in America.
Lawmakers used language in the bill, which passed the committee on a 13-5 vote, to draw a line between what constitutes a “real” journalist.
A journalist is defined in the bill as a person working for a media outlet for at least three months in the past two years or for at least one year in the past 20 years as a regular employee or contractor. The media shield would also protect people who have done substantial freelance work in the past five years, student journalists or a person a Federal judge deems deserving of the protections.
“The remedy that this legislation seeks to provide is to differentiate between different types of journalists and to determine in the Congress’s mind who’s legitimate and who’s not legitimate,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), a critic of the bill’s provision defining who is a journalist.
He based his argument on the simplicity of the 1st Amendment.
“The First Amendment makes no such differentiation,” he said. “It talks about a free press, and we would say you’re a member of the free press if you meet certain legislative criteria and if you don’t, you’re not.”
The bill will now go to the Senate floor for a full vote.