United States Senator
October 19, 2005
Statement of Senator John Cornyn
Before the Senate Judiciary Committee
"Reporters' Privilege Legislation:
An Additional Investigation of Issues and Implications"
October 19, 2005
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today and for your efforts to address this issue. You have assembled an impressive panel of witnesses and I look forward to hearing their testimony.
The press is essential to providing the public with vital information - much of which is necessary for the public to do their citizen duties. For this reason, we must maintain and defend the freedom of the press. An independent and free press is beneficial to our system of government and beneficial to our everyday life. The better informed we are, the better decisions we will make.
To effectively carry out its mission, the press needs to have access both to people and to information. At times, they will only be able to obtain certain pieces of valuable information if they are able to promise their sources anonymity. Confidential sources have lead to the discovery of corruption and incompetence both within and without government, and these revelations at times have served to make our society better.
Of course, standards for anonymity differ from outlet to outlet, and I do believe that the highest bar possible should always be applied when determining whether or not to afford such anonymity. But we must realize that at certain times, it is indeed necessary to protect certain sources in this way.
But there are competing values at stake in this debate. We must also be careful not to unnecessarily tie the hands of legitimate law enforcement investigations. We simply cannot prevent the government from obtaining information while it is conducting legitimate investigations, particularly when that information can be used to save lives, or is relevant to our national security. This is central to the shield legislation debate.
We also need to have a serious discussion of what constitutes the term "reporter." Media consumers no longer rely exclusively on traditional media outlets to obtain information. Today's technology allows for anyone to report information to a vast audience virtually instantaneously, thus creating a new generation of "cyber reporters" or those we know today as bloggers.
At our last hearing, one of our witnesses described bloggers as the modern day equivalent of the revolutionary pamphleteer who passed out news bulletins on the street corner. However, the relative anonymity afforded to bloggers, coupled with a certain lack of accountability, as they are not your traditional brick-and-mortar reporters who answer to an editor or publisher, also has the risk of creating a certain irresponsibility when it comes to accurately reporting information.
Therefore as we consider what protections to afford, it is also important to consider whether bloggers, or reporters for entities such as al Jazeera, or others whose associations perhaps are questionable or even cause for concern, ought to be covered under this type of law.
We are exploring a complex set of issues that require careful interpretation of one of our most fundamental freedoms, and I look forward to working with members of this Committee and with the Chairman to reach a viable solution.