On September 12, a US Senate panel approved legislation designed to protect journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources. In order to do this, the panel had to define "journalist". According to the proposed law, a journalist is "an employee, independent contractor or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information … [who has been] employed for one year within the last 20 years or three months within the last five years.”
The definition was met with approval by some and dismay by others. Politico, a website that tracks the minutiae of the DC elite, praised it as "a step forward for independent and non-traditional media organisations." The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organisation that seeks to protect free speech online, decried it as offering insufficient protection for independent bloggers, reiterating their earlier argument that "Congress should link shield law protections to the practice of journalism as opposed to the profession.”
The Senate debate over who is a "journalist" arose in the aftermath of WikiLeaks, whose activity has been defined as both journalism and espionage. Expanding the definition of a journalist means expanding the legal protection journalists receive.
"I can't support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege … or if Edward Snowden were to sit down and write this stuff, he would have a privilege. I'm not going to go there," said Senator Diane Feinstein, in a statement Matt Drudge denounced as "fascist”.
The debate over who is a journalist is a debate over journalistic privilege. But in a prestige economy, the privilege to protect the confidentiality of sources is not the only privilege at play.
Today people work for the possibility of working, waiting to be considered good enough to be hired by the employers under whom they already labour.
Journalism is increasingly a profession only the wealthy can enter. To narrow the definition of "journalist" to those affiliated with established news organisations denies legal protection not only to organisations like WikiLeaks, but also to the writers and bloggers who cannot afford the exorbitant credentials and unpaid internships that provide entry into the trade.
"The journalists who can tell my story - the story of urban or inner-city America - have taken a job in marketing while disseminating their opinions on blogs," writes freelancer David Dennis. Since the recession began in 2008, racial diversity in the media has declined while gender imbalance has remained high. The bloggers to whom Dennis refers would have no legal protection under the Senate's definition.
Whom would the Senate's definition protect? Journalists employed at established publications, who are mainly white men from privileged backgrounds - a category of people who may have little interest in critiquing the establishment that benefits them. The Senate's definition of journalist protects the people who need it least. Details
The Koyal Group: Who is a 'journalist'? People who can affor