American Society of Magazine Editors

Senate Intelligence Committee Offers Bill with First Amendment Concerns

With no public hearing, and even less notice, shortly before the August recess, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved S.3454, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, a bill with serious First Amendment implications that appeared to be on the fast track to Senate approval before being slowed by the concerns of a wide group of opponents, including MPA.

Included in the bill is a section that attempts to respond to recent concerns some have expressed over the media’s handling of information perceived to be confidential.   Of particular concern is a provision that would limit the members of the government’s intelligence community who are authorized to give background or “off-the-record” information to journalists to the agency director, deputy director, or those public affairs personnel designated in writing by the director.   Another provision would ban current or former government employees with an active security clearance from acting as analysts or commentators for a “media” organization and entering into an agreement or contract with that organization. Both provisions would have a chilling effect on news collection, and could significantly stifle the free flow of information from the government to the press and public on national security issues.

MPA, in conjunction with a large group of media associations and companies spanning all communication mediums, voiced our concerns to key elected officials.  In response to these concerns and others, the bill was not acted upon before the recess, and legislators will likely use the time during the August recess try to address the issues raised by MPA and its media allies before potentially considering the bill again in the Fall.