The “Free Flow of Information Act” has had many forms over the years, each as dangerous to reporters as the last.
The only legally sustainable reasons for censorship are for obscene content and a threat to national security. It’s very rare that the court sides with censorship–but journalists are able to restrain themselves from publishing questionable content (photographs that may be too graphic are often placed online, or in a separate link from the news article; the readership is taken into account). But the newest edition of the FFIA will only serve to make journalists even more cautious in what they post–they may further restrain themselves, sacrificing the quality of their news.
Of course, that may depend on your definition of “journalist”.
The Act claims it will protect journalists from phone record searches and the like by the government, to help keep anonymous sources secret. This only applies, however, if you are a paid employee or free-lancer of a news organization. Wait, what about bloggers then? People who tweet? What if you retweet? Are all of those multitudes protected from the government?
And what qualifies as “news” is also debatable–one could be a journalist, get paid for your work, and your work still isn’t “news” under the “protection” of this document. It explicitly states that raw information isn’t covered, meaning documents and raw footage. Both the journalist posting the information and anyone who helped them obtain it will be at risk of surveillance and investigation.
Further, the government would even have the right to restrict a journalist’s writing until investigations were completed and a court decision was reached.
No good will come of this. It does little to protect the few journalists it covers in its limited definition, and will only discourage people from sharing information and exposing happenings that may really need to be exposed. Honestly, if Watergate were to happen in this day and age, someone might still have the guts to report it–but they could be shut down easier than ever if this law passes.
I think I should finally discuss my class’s textbook: The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril. Keeping with my recent cheery mood, and suitable for the nice-enough-for-March weather, I’ll say what I like for now. Chapter Three has definitely been one of my favorites (probably my absolute favorite–but I’ve yet to finish the whole thing, so I’ll try to keep hope). It’s titled “News That Makes a Difference”.
When I decided to major in journalism, I told myself I’ll write anything for anyone whenever I can–but I will never write for a tabloid. Most written material matters in some way, big or small, for entertainment or exposure and everything in between; but tabloids are distinctly worthless. I don’t care who’s pregnant or gaining weight or losing weight or getting married or getting divorced or suing the paparazzi–things like that happen to normal people every day (except that last item). Celebrities frequently aren’t worthy news subjects; when they are in the news they should be doing something so exceptional a normal person would be equally exalted or abhorred for doing the same.
As the chapter explains, not every big story is Watergate-level scandal–sometimes it’s something interesting (and a bit suspicious), like Scientology becoming tax-exempt. Journalism can dig deeper into subjects normal people don’t get to experience on a daily basis–or maybe it’s something we all experience on a daily basis, but never think about until it’s shown in a different light–exemplified in the well-known article on ketchup (main point being: there’s a hundred different flavors of mustard, but only one ketchup–excluding the mistaken foray into green & purple varieties in the ’90s, but let’s pretend that didn’t happen).
I want what I write to matter. Somehow. To anyone, even one person, a little bit. And the first person my writing should matter to is me. Because if I don’t care, I can’t make anyone else care. So here it is, in writing, my promise on making my work matter: I will never write bad tabloid articles. I will write about anything else in the world, because anything else in the world will matter more.