MONTREAL, Feb. 10 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders is urging the
judge presiding over the February 11 hearing against Detroit Free Press
reporter David Ashenfelter not to hold the journalist in contempt of court for
refusing to identify confidential sources.
Ashenfelter declined to answer questions, invoking the First and Fifth
Amendment during a December 8 deposition in former federal prosecutor Richard
Convertino's lawsuit against the government. Convertino is suing the US
Justice Department for violating the Privacy Act by disclosing information
about an investigation into his prosecutorial misconduct during a 2003
terrorism trial. The trial, which led to conviction of two North African
immigrants, was thrown out in 2004 after a District Court judge ruled evidence
had been withheld from the defense.
On December 23rd, Convertino's lawyer Stephen Kohn, asked a federal judge
to hold Ashenfelter in contempt and fine him as much a $5,000 per day.
Convertino claims that by refusing to identify his source in a 2004 article on
the investigation, Ashenfelter is aiding officials who illegally leaked
information to the press.
Last December, Judge Robert Cleland in Michigan ruled that Ashenfelter
was not protected by a First Amendment reporter's privilege. Ashenfelter then
decided to invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In
court documents filed January 28th, Convertino called Ashenfelter's use of the
Fifth Amendment both "speculative," and "unreasonable."
"David Ashenfelter and the Detroit Free Press have met the highest
ethical standards in their coverage of the investigation into Richard
Convertino's alleged misconduct" said Reporters Without Borders. "Mr.
Ashenfelter's reporting offered insight into important and legitimate news.
His current legal situation clearly illustrates the need for the adoption by
the new Congress of a federal shield law that protects reporter's confidential
sources and the American people's right to information" stated the press
In a statement released after the December 8 deposition, the Detroit Free
Press argued that everything the paper had reported about the investigation
was unquestionably true and that revealing any names would undermine press
freedom. As a result, others would be less likely to share important
information with the public.
The hearing scheduled for tomorrow, February 11th, will ultimately decide
if Ashenfelter will be held in contempt.
For further information:
For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)