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Political Notebook

Media shield bill compromise reached

Associated Press / October 31, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Senate supporters of a bill protecting a reporter’s right to protect confidential sources in federal court said yesterday they’ve reached a compromise with the Obama administration and media groups that gives the government authority to override those rights in certain national security cases.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the agreement “strikes the right balance between national security concerns and the public’s right to know.’’

Schumer said it would preserve a strong protection for reporters trying to protect sources while making sure the government can do its job of protecting citizens.

The Senate Judiciary Committee could take up the altered legislation next week. The House passed its version of a media shield bill last March, but the measure has stalled in the Senate and took a step back last month when the administration unexpectedly sought to broaden government authority to compel testimony.

The original bill centered on the idea that a balancing test should be applied under which a federal judge would weigh the public’s right to know versus national security claims made by the government.

Under the compromise, the balancing test would be eliminated in classified leak cases where the government can show that disclosure of a source’s identity is necessary to prevent or mitigate an act of terrorism or substantial harm to the national security. But the government would also have to provide specific facts: it could not make a national security claim and then withhold most of the details.

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