United States - Federal judge hounds reporter to make her reveal her sources



    MONTREAL, March 11 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders condemns US
federal judge Reggie Walton's decision on 7 March in Washington DC to fine
former USA Today reporter Toni Locy up to 5,000 dollars a day to make her
reveal her sources for stories in 2003 naming a former army scientist as a
suspect in a series of anthrax attacks.
    The judge has forbidden her former newspaper or her family to pay the
fines on her behalf. If she still has not identified her sources by 3 April,
she could be sent to prison. Reporters Without Borders urges the Senate to
quickly approve a "shield law" providing federal protection for the
confidentiality of journalists' sources which the House of Representatives
passed in October.
    "This is unfortunately not the first time that a federal court has tried
to force journalists to name their sources," the press freedom organisation
said. "Some of Locy's fellow journalists have already gone to prison for
refusing to comply. This is why it is urgent that the Senate should quickly
debate and approve the shield law recognising the right of journalists to
protect the confidentiality of their sources."
    Reporters Without Borders added: "We are outraged by the methods used by
Judge Walton to try to impose his will on Locy. Banning a journalist from
turning to her family or her former employer for support is tantamount to
persecution."
    The judge's 7 March decision upheld a contempt of court ruling issued on
19 February. It obliges Locy to begin paying fines of 500 dollars a day at
midnight tonight (Washington time). After a week, the daily fine will increase
to 1,000 dollars a day. After the second week, it will rise to 5,000 dollars a
day. No one is allowed to help her pay the fines. If she still has not agreed
to name her sources by 3 April, when another hearing is scheduled, the judge
could order imprisonment. Toni Locy filed an emergency motion on 10 March.
    The contempt of court order stems from a lawsuit brought by former army
scientist Steven Hatfill in 2003 under the Privacy Act, in which he accuses
the justice department of improperly telling journalists that he was a "person
of interest" in the investigation into the mailing of packages containing
anthrax that caused five deaths in 2001.
    On 13 August 2007, Judge Walton ordered Locy and five other journalists -
Allan Lengel of the Washington Post, Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman of
Newsweek, James Stewart of CBS News and Brian Ross of ABC - to identify the
government officials responsible for the leaks. Locy named two of her sources
after obtaining their agreement. But Walton is insisting that she name all of
her sources. Stewart, who has refused to reveal the identity of other sources,
could also be held in contempt of court.
    Senate approval of the shield law known as the "Free Flow of Information
Act," which would provide federal recognition for the right of journalists to
protect their sources, would render Judge Walton's order null and void.
Already approved by the House of Representatives on 16 October and by the
Senate judiciary committee, it has not yet come before the full Senate for a
vote.
    Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem - Vermont), the head of the judiciary
committee, and Senator Arlen Specter (Rep - Pennsylvania) sent a joint letter
to the leaders of both parties on 7 March calling for a swift vote on the law.
The confidentiality of journalists' sources is recognised by 32 states and the
District of Colombia.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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