Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

WikiLeaks and Defining Journalism

by BINOY KAMPMARK

hey are at it again, those eager policy makers keen to define what journalism actually is. To be a journalist, or not to be one, may well be the difference between punishment or protection under the latest discussions by members of the U.S. Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee was busy last week coming to a few conclusions on the subject. Some of these remain troubling.

There was a certain urgency in the air after it was revealed that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed some two months’ worth of telephone records spanning 21 phone lines involving editors and reporters of The Associated Press. A search warrant was also secretly used to obtain emails of a Fox News journalist (The Times and Democrat, Sep 15).

Two pertinent issues are at stake here. One is what a journalist, and requisite journalism, actually is. Such definitions have proven problematic, traditionally defined in such a way that excludes publishers such as WikiLeaks. That, law makers seem to claim, would be one immunity too far. Once the definition of journalist is satisfied, the argument then centres on how far the immunity extends to protect a journalist from disclosing sources.

The Schumer-Graham media shield bill states that those covered would be persons with the “primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information.”

The Free Flow of Information Act 2013, as the new shield bill has formally been called, would provide shield protection for journalists from having to reveal sources against a subpoena. It is a resurrection, in part, of the Free Flow of Information bill of 2009, an instrument that found itself stranded in Congressional waters soon after WikiLeaks unleashed Cablegate.

Any definition suggests exclusions. Furthermore, the glaring feature of the latest debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee is the assumption that Congress should even define what journalism is. So, while we have Senator Charles Schumer’s diligent efforts to increase the scope of the definition to include bloggers (how revolutionary), thorny issues remain.

For Schumer, “You have to do two things. You first have to realise that the world has changed, and not everything occurs in print from people who work seven days a week in journalism.” Not that he is about to throw the baby out with its accompanying conservative bathwater. “But on the other hand, you can’t just say anybody who writes one single thing gets the same kind of protection.”

California Senator Diane Feinstein, never a friend of the journalistic creed, preferred to define “real reporters” as those earning a salary, independent contractors or “agent of an entity that disseminates news or information”. In hearings, Feinstein is on record as suggesting that a 17-year-old high school dropout with a blog could hardly qualify for protection. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has also been of a similar view, while Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) entertained the absurd in his claim that journalists revealing classified information could not be covered.

Whether information is privileged also depends on the medium disclosing the information, namely, that it be a “newspaper, nonfiction book, wire service, news agency, news website, mobile application or other news or information service (whether distributed digitally or otherwise); news program, magazine or other periodical, whether in print, electronic or other format; or through television or radio broadcast; or motion picture for public showing.” Again, the tendrils of conservatism are such that a publishing agency like WikiLeaks might fall outside its ambit, unless it is classed as a “news website”.

The compromise between the Durbin-Feinstein grouping and Schumer, passed on Thursday by 13-5 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, seems like unnecessary babble in the context of restriction. An individual who has had an employer relationship for one of the past 20 years or three continuous months in the five years would be protected (Huffington Post, Sep 12). As the editorial of The Times and Democrat claims, “It would apply to student journalists or someone with a considerable amount of freelance work in the last five years.”

Judicial discretion is, however, granted in cases where an individual might not, on face value, fall within that protection.

As with anything that stems from state representatives, national security exceptions apply. Confidential information in a journalist’s possession that might cause “significant and articulable harm to national security” would still have to surrender such material. Given how incalculably vague national security interests are, let alone “articulable”, we are still in that old muddle of whether a true flow of information will be possible. It all falls to the reasonableness of judicial opinion and the sanity of the state, both questionable propositions.

What now happens to the bill as it veers to the Senate for full consideration remains an open question. While there can be little doubt that aspects of government will be opened by the measure – the need for court approval to seek journalists’ records being the main feature there – the compromise remains weak for focusing on the status of the journalist rather than the actions of journalism. Congress is incapable of letting that one go. Besides, the Senators will continue to be concerned by that organisation that continues to send tremors through the national security establishment.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently running with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party in Victoria. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Andrew Sullivan
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Richard W. Behan
Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]