updated 7/18/2005 8:20:13 PM ET 2005-07-19T00:20:13

The sponsors of a bill to shield reporters from jail when they refuse to reveal their sources added an exception Monday that would allow federal courts to compel such disclosures if doing so would prevent harm to national security.

The bill, revised to address concerns by the Justice Department and House Republicans, would allow a federal court to force the disclosure of a confidential source if “disclosure of the identity of a source is necessary to prevent imminent and actual harm to the national security.”

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., said the concerns posed “legitimate questions” that were answered by the revision.

“In light of these concerns ... we filed a revised version of the Free Flow of Information Act which would narrow the act to its core purposes and increase its precision,” Pence said in a statement prepared for his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Under the new version, the bill would set national standards that must be met before a federal judge or prosecutor can subpoena a journalist in any government criminal or civil case.

The bill now would allow a court to compel the disclosure of confidential sources if two conditions were met:

  • All “non-media” sources have been exhausted and the testimony sought is essential to the case.
  • Disclosure of the identity of a source “is necessary to prevent imminent and actual harm to the national security.”

Pence and Lugar are scheduled to testify on the bill Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with some of the principles in the federal probe that inspired the legislation.

A federal prosecutor is trying to find out who leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame to the news media. New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed July 6 when she refused to name her source.

Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper barely escaped that fate when he revealed that his source was Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior adviser. Cooper and officials from The New York Times are among those set to testify Wednesday, along with experts such as media lawyer Floyd Abrams.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have such “shield” laws, but there is no set of standards that applies in federal courts.

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