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Pelosi: 'Without a Federal Press Shield Law, Freedom of the Press is Threatened'

Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this afternoon urging Members to support H.R. 2101, the Free Flow of Information Act, which passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 398 to 21.  Below are Pelosi's remarks:

 

'Thomas Jefferson once wrote:  'Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.'   Freedom of the press, protected by the First Amendment has been a cornerstone of our democracy--one that we cherish and promote around the world. 

 

'A free press keeps our nation informed and holds those of us in government accountable.  It is critical to freedom of speech and expression in our country.  Freedom of the press is fundamental to our democracy and is fundamental to our security. 

 

 'Speaking truth to power is as vital to our democracy today as it has been throughout our history. 

 

'Mr. Speaker, the recent contracting scandals in Iraq, the appalling care of our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed hospital, and the hidden Medicare drug prescription estimates a few years ago are several of the many examples where press coverage shaped our debate and our actions.  These stories are essential to accountability--the accountability necessary to make our nation stronger and to be better stewards of the taxpayers' dollars. 

 

'However, the essential work of the press has been severely hampered by the lack of a consistent federal standard or a federally-recognized privilege concerning the disclosure of confidential sources by journalists.  As a result, in recent years, more than 40 reporters have been subpoenaed for the identities of confidential sources in nearly a dozen cases. 

 

'Former Solicitor General Ted Olson, who served under President George W. Bush, wrote recently in the Washington Post:  '[J]ournalists reporting on high-profile controversies cannot function effectively without offering some measure of confidentiality to their sources.  Their ability to do so yields substantial benefits to the public in the form of stories that might otherwise never be written about corruption and abuse of power.'

 

'Nearly all states have some form of a press shield protecting the confidentiality of journalists' sources.  However, that protection is lacking at the federal level and in federal courts.

 

'It is for this reason that I have long supported a federal press shield law, without which freedom of the press is threatened.  The federal government's policies and actions should protect and preserve the press's ability to speak truth to power.  And this legislation does so with appropriate national security safeguards, striking a careful balance between liberty and security.

 

'Freedom of the press has long been an issue of importance to many of us in this body.  When I was Ranking Member of the Intelligence Committee, I encouraged President Clinton to veto an Intelligence Authorization bill that would have made it easier to prosecute journalists.  We fixed those provisions and passed a bill that both protected our nation and protected our fundamental freedoms.

 

'Mr. Speaker, we seek today to protect the freedom of the press that has served our nation so well.   We also seek to make clear to confidential sources that they will be protected in most circumstances when they bring forward public evidence of waste, fraud and abuse in government and in the private sector.

 

'As we protect and defend our nation, we must now protect and defend the Constitution by enabling our press to be free, as our Founders envisioned.  I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.'