Thursday, July 7, 2005Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is outraged at the imprisonment of New York Times journalist Judith Miller for refusing to reveal confidential sources to a grand jury. Today, Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the US District court in Washington DC ordered that Miller be sent to jail immediately for contempt of court when she again refused to disclose the identity of government officials who may be connected to the leaking of the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. Miller will be held in jail until October unless she gives up the identity of her source. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has demanded that Miller, along with Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine disclose confidential sources who he believes are connected to the leak. Miller conducted interviews on the leak but did not write any articles. Confidentiality is crucial to the journalistic process and vital for democracy. To be an effective check on the power of the government, journalists must be able to protect those who have information that is embarrassing or incriminating for the government. In December 2004, Hamilton Spectator journalist Ken Peters was fined more than $30,000 for refusing to reveal a confidential source but was saved from imprisonment when his source came forward. Peters was fortunate that he did not face jail time for his work, but with this precedent, other Canadian journalists may not be so fortunate in the future. "These convictions inevitably bring about a chill. Journalists certainly ask themselves why they should go to jail for doing their jobs. Do lawyers or judges or accountants or dentists?" asked CJFE Executive Director Rod Macdonell. "Certainly not. The public is the ultimate loser when journalists are prosecuted for protecting their sources." There would not have been a Watergate, and the removal of an unfit president of the U.S., if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had not been trusted by their source, Mark Felt. They protected that source for more that 30 years. There would not been countless other essential articles exposing corruption, abuse of power, political wrongdoing and systemic malfunction in Canada, the U.S. and indeed most of the world, if the press were not there to provide anonymity to sources with important information to share with the public. It is a travesty that a reporter be imprisoned while the name of the leaker of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity is apparently known to the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has claimed that no one is above the law. This is pure and misdirected obstinacy. Fitzgerald is supposed to be getting to the bottom of the leak, and if he finds sufficient evidence, he is to prosecute the administration official who has broken the law and endangered the life of Ms Plame. The object is to ultimately imprison the official who has so outrageously compromised a CIA agent. Imprisoning journalists may well serve the interest of some, but that is not Mr. Fitzgerald's mandate. Miller's refusal to identify her source may be a contempt of court, but what has ensued gives the public every reason to have contempt for the court and prosecutor that imprisoned the journalist but not the wrongdoer, that coward who stands back and allows someone else to pay for his crime. The chilling effect on press freedom, caused by the persecution of Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper can already be seen internationally. According to a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the governments of Venezuela and Cameroon have used this case as a justification for their own restrictions on free speech and the media. The jailing of Judith Miller is a disservice to democracy and serves to encourage those who would oppress journalists and deny them their basic rights to free expression. The actions of the American government have set a dangerous precedent that has the potential to damage the cause of press freedom in the United States and around the world. CJFE calls on Judge Thomas F. Hogan and prosecutor Fitzgerald to come to their senses and release Ms. Miller immediately. CJFE is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world. For more information, contact Julie Payne at (416) 515-9622 or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
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