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Senator's Attempt to Define 'Real Journalism' Blasted By Journalists

Feinstein seeks to exclude Wikileaks, unpaid reporters from 'shield law' protecting journalists and their sources

Sarah Lazare

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says a bill protecting reporters and their sources should only apply to 'real journalists,' declaring that WikiLeaks employees, and nonsalaried reporters, don't count.

The "shield law" under debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee would protect journalists and their confidential sources from court orders and subpoenas.

Feinstein criticized the language of the bill Thursday, declaring she was "very disappointed" that the law contained a "flawed definition" of journalists—which she says is inclusive of WikiLeaks and nonsalaried reporters. "I’m concerned this would provide special privilege to those who are not reporters at all," she exclaimed, according to a statement released by her staffers to Common Dreams. Feinstein and Senator Dick Durbin (D - Ill.) are demanding changes to the bill's definition of journalists that reflect these concerns.

As the bill faces a third attempt at passage, after two previous failures, Thursday saw debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee over the definition of journalists and whether unpaid reporters should have the same protections as paid ones. While all parties agreed that WikiLeaks should be excluded from protection, some insisted the language already stipulates that exclusion.

"The world has changed. We’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we’ve ensured that," said Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y). "But there are people who write and do real journalism, in different ways than we’re used to. They should not be excluded from this bill."

The debate comes amid a chilling climate for journalists and their sources who cross US power. Bradley Manning was found guilty Tuesday of over 20 counts including espionage and is facing a potential 136 years in jail for revealing documents to WikiLeaks that exposed US human rights abuses and corruption across the world.

"It is dangerous to rely on only those sources the government deems worthy of protection," said Nathan Fuller, writer for the Bradley Manning Support Network. "WikiLeaks is a serious news publication: it edits material and protects sources. Wikileaks has anonymous submissions because it knows its contacts don't get protection."

The bill advances following a May scandal in which Justice Department officials were publicly exposed for seizing phone records of AP reporters without due process or notice and monitoring communications of a Fox News reporter.

Meanwhile, journalists expressed outrage at Feinstein's denigration of unpaid reporters in a climate where journalism jobs are quickly disappearing and independent, and often unpaid, reporting plays a key role in exposing the truth and holding power accountable. Author and Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill tweeted the following response:

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