American Society of Magazine Editors

MPA Helps Strike First Amendment Chilling Provision from Senate Intelligence Bill

February 25, 2013

Using legislative tactics they tried unsuccessfully earlier in the year, the sponsors of S. 3454, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, recently attempted once again to “hotline” a bill containing a section with serious First Amendment implications.

The section, included in an appropriations bill that is customarily approved without much fanfare, attempted to respond to concerns some have expressed over the media’s handling of information perceived to be confidential.  As proposed, it would have imposed strict reporting restrictions – including limitations on “off-the-record” and background interviews and a ban on former government employees with security clearances working for “media” organizations – that could have had a chilling effect on news collection and significantly stifled the free flow of information from the government to the press and public on national security issues.

Despite continuing objections from the media, the Administration, and others, the sponsors continued to press hard for a compromise late into the final days of the 112th Congress.  With little time remaining in the year, MPA and a few other influential media groups were able to successfully convince the sponsors to remove the provision from the bill in its entirety.  Absent the objections the provisions evoked, the bill was soon thereafter able to pass the Senate and House and be signed into law by the President.