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Silencing opposition: Congress proposes licensing of legitimate journalists

Our individual rights of free speech and freedom of the press guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America are under attack.

In May of 2013, Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-NY) sponsored S987: The “Free Flow of Information Act of 2013,” shortly after the news came out about the Justice Department’s monitoring of Fox News reporter James Rosen. The DOJ obtained a search warrant of his personal emails, traced phone calls, and used security badge access records to track his comings and goings from the State Department. The warrant indicated there was evidence Rosen violated the law and labeled him a “co-conspirator” for making arrangements to obtain information on North Korea’s nuclear program from a State Department contractor. These actions by the Department of Justice upset journalists everywhere and all across the political spectrum.

The proposed bill, also known as the “media shield bill,” provides for the licensing of journalists by the federal government. It defines who will be considered a “journalist” eligible for protection from government prosecution demanding that confidential sources be revealed. The language in the bill would exclude citizen journalists, bloggers, and others from the privileges afforded a “legitimate” journalist as defined by Congress. By licensing journalists, the federal government would be giving this “privileged” press special access to information and making them beholden to the government. This bill would effectively limit the freedom of speech and the press of those who oppose the administration. In addition it would enable the government to limit our access to information.

In September of 2013, California Senator Diane Feinstein (D) asserted that the First Amendment provision of freedom of the press is a “special privilege” reserved for legitimate journalists. She proposed an amendment to the bill establishing “legitimate” journalist bona fides credentials as outlined in the video in this article.

In a document entitled ADDITIONAL MINORITY VIEWS FROM SENATORS CORNYN, SESSIONS, LEE, AND CRUZ, the senators opposing this bill assert:

“The First Amendment was adopted to prevent—not further—the federal government licensing of media. … If today’s town crier or pamphleteer must meet a test set by the federal government to avail themselves of liberty, we have gone less far from tyranny than any of us want to admit. This bill runs afoul of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and amounts to de facto licensing. It would weaken the newly-illegitimate press, render the specially privileged press supplicant to the federal government and ultimately undermine liberty.”

Those of us who have become engaged in citizen journalism and blogging are ordinary Americans who are concerned with what we see happening in our country. We have become the pamphleteers and town criers of this generation. We do not need special bona fides determined by this increasingly oppressive government to speak and report the truth. As American citizens our First Amendment rights must not be abridged.

The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Schumer said recently he believes he has enough votes to pass it in the Senate. President Obama endorses the bill.

Much like the “Affordable Health Care Act” has proven to be unaffordable, we can be confident the application of the “Free Flow of Information Act” will undoubtedly restrict the free flow of information.