19 agosto 2004

IAPA warns of U.S. court decision



IAPA warns of U.S. court decision impacting protection of sources


Miami (August 19, 2004).- The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) warned about risks to freedom of the press stemming from U.S. courts regarding the journalists’ right to protect sources and supports the decision of five journalists for keeping secret their sources in order to avoid violating the public’s right to information.


Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, from Washington, placed the journalists H. Josef Hebert, from the Associated Press, James Risen and Jeff Perth, from The New York Times, Robert Drogin, from Los Angeles Times, and Pierre Thomas, from ABC, in “contempt of the court” and set fines of $500 for each day they refuse to reveal their sources from reports made on Wen Ho Lee, a nuclear arms scientist who was under suspicion for espionage.


The scientist sued the departments of Justice and Energy for leaking information to the press about his activities. The journalists that were covering the story were questioned by the judge between December 18, 2003 and January 8, 2004, but they chose to protect their sources.


The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Rafael Molina, said that “forcing journalists to reveal their sources gives rise to negative consequences for freedom of the press, since sources that are kept anonymous to avoid retaliation, may be less willing to divulge information.”


In a similar case, last week a U.S. federal judge ordered reporter Matthew Cooper, from Times Magazine, into confinement and fined the magazine $1,000 for each day he refused to reveal his sources. In both cases the court decision is being appealed.


Molina, from El Nacional newspaper in the Dominican Republic, said that although journalists abstain from using anonymous sources in general, he believes that “sometimes it is the only way they can report acts of corruption and offer relevant information that affects society as a whole.”


The IAPA believes that forcing journalists to reveal their sources contradicts principles established in international doctrine, such as the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that states, “Every social communicator has the right to keep his/her source of information, notes, personal and professional archives confidential,” and the Declaration of Chapultepec, which states, “No journalist may be forced to reveal his or her sources of information.”