July 18, 2013

This probably won’t come as a great shock, but we’re big fans of freedom of the press.

The First Amendment is a big supporter, too. It’s good for democracy.

But there are times when freedom comes with very difficult ethical questions and a very steep price — especially when disclosure of classified information could harm national security and public safety.

That’s why legislation proposed by a group of U.S. senators — Republicans and Democrats — sets the right tone and seeks a common-sense balance between press freedom and public safety.

Among its aims, the legislation seeks to strengthen recent Department of Justice recommendations for legal protections for journalists during newsgathering — and to prevent future administrations from rolling back those recommendations.

The group of sponsors includes Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

“As the daughter of a newspaperman, I have always believed in the freedom of the press,” Klobuchar said. “While the Department of Justice’s guidelines are a good start to improving protections for the media, we need to make sure that these guidelines can’t be reversed. This legislation will help ensure the right to a free press without hindering law enforcement’s ability to protect national security and public safety.”

Klobuchar says the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 would protect journalists and their news organizations from being forced to reveal confidential information, including the identity of a source who has been promised confidentiality.

It would not provide absolute privilege for journalists — but it would create a legal framework for determining the limited circumstances under which journalists would be ordered by the court to disclose information.

Those limited circumstances included cases in which confidentiality may be shielding those who are planning to commit terrorism or harm national security.

The court would have to seek balance between the public interest in disclosure and the potential threat to public safety.

According to a statement from Klobuchar: “The bill sets up a legal process for approving the subpoenas that would guarantee consideration of the public’s interest in protecting the freedom of the press.”

This bill certainly could face some changes along the path, but we think Klobuchar and her colleagues are tackling a tough issue from a proper perspective that favors a free press.