WASHINGTON (AP) – The House yesterday strongly backed the right of reporters to protect the confidentiality of sources in most federal court cases, saying that right was crucial to a free and effective press. The White House, warning that the media shield bill would encourage leaks of classified information, threatened a veto.

Under legislation that passed 398-21, reporters could still be compelled to disclose information on sources if that information is needed to prevent acts of terrorism or harm to the national security.

That wasn’t enough for the White House, which said the privileges given to reporters “could severely frustrate – and in some cases completely eviscerate – the ability to investigate acts of terrorism or threats to national security.”

Advocates of press freedom have pushed the issue this year in the wake of several high-profile cases, including subpoenas for reporters to testify in a probe into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity.

Supporters pointed to press reports on Abu Ghraib, clandestine CIA prisons and shoddy conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as examples where source confidentiality was crucial.

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