The Judiciary Committee's action cleared the way for approval of legislation prompted by the disclosure earlier this year that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed almost two months of telephone records for 21 phone lines used by reporters and editors for The Associated Press and secretly used a warrant to obtain some emails of a Fox News journalist. The subpoenas grew out of investigations into leaks of classified information to the news organizations.
The AP received no advance warning of the subpoena.
The vote was 13-5 for a compromise defining a "covered journalist" as an employee, independent contractor or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information. The individual would have been employed for one year within the last 20 or three months within the last five years.
It would apply to student journalists or someone with a considerable amount of freelance work in the last five years. A federal judge also would have the discretion to declare an individual a "covered journalist," who would be granted the privileges of the law.
The committee later approved the overall bill on a 13-5 vote.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a chief proponent of the medial shield legislation, worked with Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as well as representatives from news organizations, on the compromise.
The bill would protect reporters and news media organizations from being required to reveal the identities of confidential sources, but it does not grant an absolute privilege for journalists.