Commentary: Federal shield law will ensure more government transparency

"Congress shall make no law ... abridging freedom of speech, or of the press ..." This simple passage in the Bill of Rights allows for citizen oversight of our government and holds our elected and appointed representatives accountable through the watchdog efforts of our nation's news media.

What the First Amendment doesn't provide, however, is protection from prosecutors or judges -- who might threaten journalists with prosecution or incarceration -- when it comes to divulging sources or materials.

Fortunately, California has a provision in our state constitution known as the "Shield Law," protecting journalists from such threats.

A bill in Congress would create the same safeguards on a national level.

The Free Flow of Information Act, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last year, establishes a shield law for journalists in all 50 states. The bill is expected to go to the Senate for approval in the near future.

We strongly urge all senators to approve this bill and President Obama to then sign it into law.

Unlike the California Shield Law, which was adopted in the 19th century, the federal bill widens the definition of a journalist to include not only those who work for print publications -- such as this newspaper -- but for broadcast and electronic media outlets as well.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.fresnobee.com.