Revised Senate shield law could apply to freelancers, bloggers

The latest version of a Senate bill that would shield reporters from revealing their sources extends legal protections to freelance authors and bloggers, the bill's sponsors hinted Friday.

That landmark change -- and a series of additional tweaks -- has earned Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Arlen Specter's (D-Pa.) proposed Free Flow of Information Act the president's endorsement, consequently ending a month-long stalemate between the White House and Senate Democrats over the bill's size and scope.

“We’ve come a long way in these negotiations and have now reached a compromise that strikes the right balance between national security concerns and the public’s right to know,” Schumer said in a statement on Friday. “This new version preserves a strong protection for reporters interested in protecting their sources, while also making sure that the government can still do the job of protecting its citizens."

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Preventing the shield law's progress until now was the Obama administration's concern that Senate Democrats' bill would undermine national security. When the president proposed to Schumer and Specter a series of revisions earlier this month that would have afforded legal protections to journalists only in cases that did not threaten state secrets, the two Democrats balked, Schumer predicted his bill would never pass and journalists grumbled that the president had shirked one of his biggest campaign promises.

But the compromise announced on Friday suggests both sides have tempered their demands. Although it is unclear which parts of the original bill have changed, the act's sponsors have stressed the thrust of their legislation remains intact.

The most significant edit, however, is the inclusion of freelancers and bloggers under the proposed shield law's umbrella. Previously, the Free Flow of Information Act only covered salaried employees and independent contractors, but Schumer and Specter on Friday hinted that exclusion would no longer be so -- a revision that is likely to spur as much debate on the Hill as it is satisfaction in the blogosphere. 

“The negotiated compromise creates a fair standard to protect the public interest, journalists, the news media, bloggers, prosecutors and litigants," Specter said in a statement.

"White House negotiators for President Obama played a decisive role in working out this compromise," he added.