A former USA Today reporter faces fines for refusing to disclose her sources for stories about 2001 terrorist attacks has urged US news organisations to stand up for the protection of the First Amendment in the US Constitution. Ms Toni Locy, who was a reporter for USA Today, told a coalition of open-government and press groups in Philadelphia last week that “the news business is on a collective nervous breakdown. It’s time to stop running, it’s time to turn and fight”, she told her colleagues assembled at the annual convention of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. “If we don’t fight for the First Amendment, who will?” Ms Locy said the country needs a shield law that would protect reporters from having to reveal their sources. “In this environment that we’re in now”, she said, the First Amendment “needs some help”.
The former USA Today reporter, who currently teaches journalist at West Virginia University, is appealing an order from a US District Judge that requires her to pay as much as 5,000 US dollars (118,592 roubles. 3,197 euros. 2,546 UK pounds) a day in fines until she gives up her sources for stories about the government’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States. No one was ever charged in the anthrax attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17 others, and the case remains unsolved. Most American states recognise some sort of common-law privilege protecting the confidentiality of reporters’ relationships with their sources, but, apparently, lawyers for Ms Locy, now facing a contempt citation in court, had not asserted that privilege forcefully enough.
Ms Locy’s case is reminiscent of an earlier event involving Judith Miller, an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning former investigative reporter for the New York Times, who had spent 85 days in jail in 2005 for contempt of court for refusing to testify, thus claiming to defend a reporter’s right to protect confidential sources. Since leaving jail and parting with the New York Times in that same year, she has advocated the enactment of a Federal “shield” law to protect the relationship between reporters and their sources and the public’s right to know. A federal shield law passed the House of Representatives last year by a veto-proof margin. But, the White House has since mounted a spirited effort to defeat the proposal. With the stiff opposition from the White House, prospects for the measure in the Senate, however, are uncertain. The measure is reportedly likely to face a filibuster on the Senate floor, with 60 votes needed for passage.
13 May 2008
Voice of Russia World Service