A just-released report on a 65-member conference on "The First Amendment and the News Media" includes proposals for a federal shield law for journalists, the removal of government regulation over TV and radio program content, and greater access to government information.
The membership of the June conference, sponsored by the Roscoe Pound-American Trial Lawyers Foundation, was composed of lawyers, journalists, clergymen, academics and publishers.
"They had an opportunity to think it out," Herbert H. Bennett, president of the foundation said last night. He said the foundation would print the findings of the conference and distribute them to "leaders in government, civic and community organizations, legislators and others involved in making Democracy work."
Bennett said he hoped the recommendations of the conference would be as well received as those of last year's conference (which dealt with penal reform). The federal government granted the foundation $12,000 to continue research on the subject.
The conference concluded that a journalist, whom the conferees defined as anyone employed in a newsgathering capacity by a periodic medium or a scholar or researcher in a bona fide capacity with intent to disseminate, should have a broad legal privilege to protect confidential information and sources.
The gathering called for a federal shield law to protect this privilege but emphasized the need for a broad-based law. "If Congress does not pass a broad shield law then no shield law should be passed," the members agreed.
The conference stopped short of calling for absolute legal protection for journalists.
The conference also recommended that in view of the wide spectrum of radio and T.V. frequencies that the power to regulate program content be removed from the hands of the Federal Communications Commission.
Finally, the conference held that all requests for information should be met by government agencies in ten to 20 days. Procedures for court "declassification" of government papers and the creation of a chief public information officer in each government agency were also outlined.