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Targeting: Free Press and Speech


TV news report transcript

This week, three American reporters are scheduled to receive jail sentences for refusing to tell a judge who in the government leaked classified information to them. Some journalists claim the guarantees in the U.S. Constitution of a free press and free speech are being targeted.

This is a videotape of a aide to the former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, accepting a bribe. American TV reporter Jim Taricani said his station broadcast the tape it in the public interest.

JIM TARICANI, TV REPORTER, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
"We thought at our station, and I thought and I still believe, that showing people in video form, actually showing what public corruption looked like was something the public should know about."

The tape was aired before the corruption trial of former mayor Buddy Ciainci, and after a judge had prohibited it from being shown. Mr. Taricani refused to tell a federal judge who gave it to him on grounds that he had to protect a confidential source. The judge found him guilty of contempt of court.

Former U.S. prosecutor Joseph di Genova, says the judge was within his rights.

JOSEPH DI GENOVA, FORMER U.S. PROSECUTOR
"That was a violation of a federal court order that that tape was not to be shown until the case was over and the court had issued an order."

Mr. di Genova explains that Jim Taricani witnessed a crime and has no special rights to withhold information from the prosecutor in the case. The attorney who handed the tape to Jim Taricani has since come forward, but says he didn't ask for a guarantee of confidentiality. Mr. Taricani disagrees.

JIM TARICANI, TV REPORTER, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
"I would never have jeopardized my health, my reputation, my family, and put my company through this ordeal if my source had not required a promise of confidentiality."

It is normal practice in American journalism for reporters to offer confidentiality in exchange for sensitive information. Two other reporters may receive jail sentences this week for refusing to provide a judge with information they consider confidential. Their case involves a CIA officer whose identity may have been leaked to the press, but one of the reporters has not even written a story about the agent.

Last year, columnist Robert Novak named the agent and said two "senior administration officials" had provided him with the information. Mr. Novak has not been subpoenaed.

In the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled that even if a story is never published, reporters, like any other citizens, are required to produce information for a grand jury. The Supreme Court ruled this does not infringe on rights to a free press and free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Attorney Joseph di Genova says the cases that came before the Supreme Court in the 1970s established a court's right to seek information it considers essential.

JOSEPH DI GENOVA
"In all of those cases the court ruled that reporters have no privilege under the Constitution, and more particularly, under the First Amendment, to refuse to disclose sources when ordered to do so by a court."

But Charles Lewis, Director of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, DC, says there is more to this case than meets the eye.

CHARLES LEWIS, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY
"It is rare for prosecutors to go after journalists. We don't do that in this country. There is a space between the public and the private. We just don't do it. I think we are trying to pretend that this is a leak investigation, but in fact, it has become much larger than that. It has become a witch hunt against the media."

JOSEPH DI GENOVA
"It does seem, recently that a lot of reporters are being subpoenaed. I think that's just an accident of history. There's a lot going on right now and some people are in the sights of various U.S. attorneys around the country."

Charles Lewis says there is always tension between government officials and reporters but, since the terrorist attacks against the United States in September, 2001, it's gotten worse.

CHARLES LEWIS
"I think most reporters feel under siege."

Senator Christopher Dodd has proposed a national journalism shield law because, as he put it, "the public's right to know is under attack."

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