Eric Holder, the new Attorney General under President-elect Obama, has indicated that the new administration is seeking to change the administration’s policy and federal law making it easier for reporters to maintain the confidentiality of their sources. Holder is reportedly in support of a law that would allow reporters and journalists to protect their secret sources and refuse to reveal information about them in court or in front of a federal grand jury. Such a law, commonly referred to as a shield law, was blocked under the Bush administration. Holder has also indicated that the new adimninstration plans to change the Bush administration’s policy of withholding federal records from the public if there is a plausible reason to do so. Presumably, under this “plausible reason” standard, a reason is plausible if those who want to keep the information from the public say their reasoning is plausible.
This issue of forcing journalists to reveal their sources or face severe penalties made the news fairly recently when a federal judge ordered two journalists for the San Francisco paper to reveal their sources relating to the Barry Bonds/BALCO steroids case or face up to 18 months in jail. However, under legislation supported by Obama, journalists would not be forced to reveal their confidential sources to a grand jury or in court unless a judge first determines that the information is required for national security.