Control over the free flow of information is coming to a head with the Senate Bill 987, entitled, “Free Flow of Information Act of 2013” (FFIA) which is awaiting approval by the House and the Senate.
Supporters of this bill include:
• Senator Lindsey Graham
• Senator Barbara Boxer
• Senator Maria Cantwell
• Senator Patrick Leahy
The text of the FFIA explains how a “covered person” would not have to disclose their sources for news unless “a Federal court in the jurisdiction where the subpoena, court order, or other compulsory legal process has been or would be issued determines, after providing notice and an opportunity to be heard.”
Indeed, this legislation provides protection to the mainstream media with regard to anonymous sources never having to be revealed which also maintains that this conglomerate of media outlets would not have to divulge where any information they report on came from.
This is anti-ethical to a transparent press that provides source links or footnotes in articles to provide the audience with further information on the subject, as well as the exact source where the information originated.
This includes information provided by “record, document, or item obtained as the result of the eyewitness observations of, or obtained during the course of, alleged criminal conduct by the covered person, including any physical evidence or visual or audio recording of the conduct.”
However, in Section 5, the legislation outlines a catch-all allowance by any entity to obtain information about anonymous sources in the event that this indulgence would “prevent terrorist activity or harm to national security.”
The loophole is created with the ambiguous phrase: “Other acts that are reasonably likely to cause significant and articulable harm to national security.”
A covered person is defined as “a person who, with the primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest, regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports or publishes on such matters by”:
- Conducts interviews
- Makes direct observations of events
- “Collecting, reviewing, or analyzing original writings, statements, communications, reports, memoranda, records, transcripts, documents, photographs, recordings, tapes, materials, data, or other information whether in paper, electronic, or other form”
- Gathers information with the intent of disseminating the news
Forms of dissemination that are acceptable to the US government include:
- Print “(including newspapers, books, wire services, news agencies, or magazines)”
- Broadcasting “(including dissemination through networks, cable, satellite carriers, broadcast stations, or a channel or programming service for any such media)”
- Other means
Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) meeting in September to explain her view of who can be a journalist and who cannot.
Feinstein made note of how certain language in the bill would extend to persons who “really aren’t qualified at all” to call themselves journalists (as meant to be defined by the government).
The US government is attempting to define journalism as we know it today, and may be successful because of the ignorance of current incarnations of the development of news and reporting over time.
Following the tremendous contribution of friend and fellow journalist, James Corbett, this lecture furthers certain details of the study on the transformation of media as it relates to the definition of journalism over the centuries.
The first identified movement toward mass reporting of events can be attributed to the creation of the printing press . This machine made it possible for information to be copied en masse and distributed in a timely manner.
This modern equivalent of the printing press can be found in the creation of the internet . Just as with the printing press (which facilitated news to be distributed across a massive audience), the internet is the apparatus that allows modern alternative media to reach a substantial portion of the world’s population that have access to the World Wide Web.
In fact, the first newspapers were created in Europe by “merchants would distribute newsletters written by hand containing information regarding the weather, economic conditions, wars and human-interest stories.”
Today we find that with the creation of websites, alternative forms of information about current events have once again altered the landscape of what is accepted as disbursement of news and established online journalism .
In the mid-1800s, Paul Julius Reuter and his friend Carl Friedrich Gauss, “who was experimenting with an electric telegraph . . . opened a telegraphic news office ” and later founded Reuters News Agency (RNA).
In 1847, Reuter and Stargardt “distributed radical pamphlets at the beginning of the Revolutions of 1848.”
RNA used carrier pigeons to connect Berlin to Paris, and then used the telegraph to correlate with reporters all over the word who provided information on events to the central hub which then translated those reports to the public.
In our technological age, Twitter serves as a modern-day telegraph which “enables [microbloggers] to send and read ‘tweets’ which are text messages limited to 140 characters.”
With the creation of radio, talk news became another way news was provided to the public for educational purposes.
In the 1920s, “a Detroit station air[ed] what is believed to be the first radio news broadcast.”
Today there are a plethora of alternative talk radio stations that mirror the intent of that first news broadcast; to bring the audience information about politics, health and corporatism that directly affects our world.
Beginning in 1949, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) was the first news agency to have a news show on television.
Since creation of YouTube in 2005, what has been called alternative media has been able to report on news independently from what is discussed in the mainstream media.
Just as the development of journalism has changed with the advent of technology, there is no difference between what has historically taken place and what is happening right now.
From the printing press to internet websites, the way in which we disseminate information to the public has changed.
The independent “alternative” media are simply going with the free flow of information, as news agencies of the past have done, to ensure the public is able to make an informed decision.
Only now, with the introduction of SB 987, is this industry being redefined for the express purpose of the government overseeing and granting privilege to certain “covered persons” as pre-approved journalists.
If journalism and news reporting is to survive, its integrity must be maintained. This means that the battle is not in whether or not a “seventeen year old can purchase a $5 website” and offer another perspective on local and international events, but whether or not uncompromised sources of information can remain relevant so the public can be truly informed.