Press-Republican

September 27, 2013

EDITORIALS: Shield law needed; No more excuses for inaction on global warming


CNHI News Service

Shield law must provide broad protections

(The Mankato Free Press / Mankato, Minn.)

On the heels of revelations that the Justice Department had seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters and had traced the emails and calls of a Fox News reporter, Congress seems willing to provide federal protections for journalists and their sources.

Although many states have so-called “shield laws” to protect journalists and their sources, there is no such protection from federal subpoenas or court orders forcing reporters to reveal confidential information or sources.

Because the Supreme Court has never ruled that the First Amendment protects journalists from being compelled to identify confidential information, the federal government has at times gone after journalists to learn the identities of their sources.

Under proposed legislation in Congress, journalists would not have to comply with subpoenas or court orders forcing them to talk, unless a judge first determines a crime has occurred and the government has exhausted all other alternatives. Final bills could be approved by the end of the year.

While there is general support for a federal shield law in Congress and by journalism organizations, a key sticking point has been the seemingly simple question of defining “journalist.”

The draft bill defines a journalist as someone who has a “primary intent to investigate events and procure material” to inform the public. All agree a reporter working for a newspaper, news service or broadcast outlet would be protected. Harder to pin down is whether bloggers and others who use the Internet to disseminate news would be protected.

Some Senators would like to broaden the definition of journalists under the law while still others would like to narrow it even more, fearing that too-broad a definition could protect groups like WikiLeaks.

The existing language in the bill seems to do a good job of balancing various concerns, providing a fairly broad protection to traditional and new journalists without getting tangled up in minutia. And the legislation would provide a safety valve in tricky cases, giving federal judges the discretion to extend protection to people who might not meet the exact criteria of a “journalist” under the bill’s definition.

In the end, it is better to maintain a broad definition of journalism. By being too specific, any law aimed at protecting journalism could in fact limit the definition of freedom of speech and the press under the First Amendment, by excluding some people from protections.

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Excuses dwindle on failing to act on greenhouse gases

(The New Castle News / New Castle, Pa.)

Humans are almost certainly to blame for global warming.

That’s the conclusion reached by scientists in various fields who gathered in Stockholm, Sweden, this week as part of a United Nations program on global warming.

Technically, the researchers said they are 95 percent certain that global warming is the result of human activity. So that leaves a little wiggle room for skeptics.

However, this 95 percent certainty is about the same as the strength of evidence linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer. So people who scoff at global warming and human connections aren’t exactly on the most solid of scientific footing.

Actually, this message from the scientific community is nothing new, albeit a bit more definitive. For years now, the ties between human actions — particularly the burning of fossil fuels — and global warming have been well discussed.

And any rational arguments against signs of a warming planet are melting faster than polar ice caps. The evidence of planetary warming cannot be denied by any reasonable person.

But when this reality is tied to human actions, problems arise. Mainly, what can — or should — be done to reverse this trend? And while the scientific community solidly supports global warming data, predictions on future scenarios and the consequences of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are much more speculative.

That’s because it’s relatively easy to look at historical data and map changes in temperatures. Calculating those changes into the future, where multiple variables come into play, is far more difficult.

Efforts to address global warming through a reduction in greenhouse gases pose an assortment of challenges. Critics of the concept decry changes in lifestyles or harmful economic impacts that could result.

There is also the fact that a single nation’s actions on global warming fail to address greenhouse gas production elsewhere. Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are often attacked on the grounds that developing nations such as China and India are contributing even more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than this country.

Successful efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions inevitably will require international agreement. When one considers the battles in this country over issues that are far more straightforward, reaching a worldwide accord on greenhouse gases sounds unlikely.

But it needs to be pursued. The remaining uncertainty over global warming — primarily its longer-term impact — hardly justifies inaction. And common sense says that the longer the world waits to properly address this issue, the harsher the consequences will be.