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Friday, December 10, 2004

Not just for despots anymore - 10 U.S. journalists face prosecution, fines, imprisonment 

Imagine if you could be arrested for something you did at work months or years ago even if you had changed employers. This report from Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) details the stories of one U.S. journalist who is being prosecuted, fined, jailed etc. for doing his job.

"Reporter sentenced to 6 months of home confinement for refusing to reveal his source":

Reporters Without Borders strongly protests against Jim Taricani's 6-month home confinement sentence for 'criminal contempt.' The journalist had refused to reveal to the court the source of an undercover FBI videotape. A federal judge ordered Taricani to begin serving the sentence immediately. "

...

"Jim Taricani was sentenced even though his source-Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr., a lawyer of one of the individuals accused of taking bribes-had revealed his identity to the special prosecutor in charge of the case on November 24, 2004."

....

"Initially, on March 16, 2004, Jim Taricani had been sentenced to pay a fine of $1,000 per diem for as long as he persisted in refusing to reveal his sources. The penalty had been upheld in appeal on August 12. On November 4, ruling that this punishment was ineffective, Judge Torres set it aside and gave the journalist 14 days to reveal his source, or risk having his "misdemeanor" offense requalified as a "crime." If such were the case, at the penalty phase, the journalist could face a jail term of up to six months. As Jim Taricani had persisted in his refusal, he was found guilty on November 18, of the crime of contempt of court."

The judge mercifully limited Taricani's sentence to six months at home because of a serious heart condition but "said he would impose strict conditions on the home confinement to make the sentence as similar to serving prison time as possible."

For the non-journalist reader: Journalists are supposed to have a limited confidentiality privilege that lets us talk to sources who would not come forward if their identities revealed. In this way we are free to act as watchdogs of the public processes and make it so the average citizen finds out what's going on in public life.

While journalists can and should be held responsible for things like libel and plagiarism, source confidentiality is a fundamental cornerstone of our trade. A confidential source figured critically in the famous Watergate case that eventually brought down for U.S. President Richard Nixon demonstrating both the power of media that is free to report without punishment and why the powers-that-be fear it. The authorities can force us to reveal sources but they are only supposed to ask when there is absolutely no other way to get the information and there is a significant public interest at stake.

Similarly our notes, tapes, films and photos are supposed to be protected from seizure by the police.

There several more U.S. journos in court for the same thing. In Canada, Hamilton Spectator journalist Ken Peters was found guilty of contempt but spared a sentence after the source he sought to protect came forward. The court still levied costs of more than CA$30K on Peters.


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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I wouldn't lie about something like this 

Reporters Trail Badly (Again) in Annual Poll on Honesty and Ethics: "NEW YORK Once again, newspaper reporters score poorly in the annual Gallup Poll, released today, on honesty and ethical standards in various professions, as judged by the American public. They rank even lower than bankers, auto mechanics, elected officials, and nursing-home operators."


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