CJFE Troubled by US Journalist Being Forced to Testify

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is troubled by Judge Cormac Carney's order on July 14 for journalist William Gertz to appear in open court this week for questioning about his sources for an article which detailed alleged Chinese espionage in the United States.

Gertz, a national security reporter with The Washington Post, has repeatedly refused to reveal his sources for the May 2006 article and was told that he would have to justify why the confidentiality is critical to his ability to engage in investigative reporting.

California District Court Judge Carney initially issued a subpoena on April 30, 2008, ordering Gertz to testify regarding his source for the article. Judge Carney stated that the article disclosed secret information that had only been revealed before a grand jury. Lawyers for Gertz moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that the request for the sources would interfere with the journalist's ability to gather news.

Gertz testified yesterday that confidentiality was absolutely essential to his work, and that being forced to reveal his sources would infringe on his First Amendment rights and the Reporter's Privilege. He will be back in court tomorrow, July 24, and if the court forces him to reveal his sources, he believes it will have a negative impact on the willingness of individuals to come forward in the future to divulge information on issues of public interest.

CJFE notes that this is not the first time that a US court has forced journalists to name their sources: on March 7, 2008, Washington DC Judge Reggie Walton subjected Toni Locy to fines of up to $5,000 a day in order to force her to reveal her sources for a series of stories naming a former army scientist as a suspect in a series of anthrax attacks.

The Free Flow of Information Act, a bill pending consideration before the American Senate, has been designed to protect and encourage information sharing between journalists and sources. This law would act as a shield to journalists and their sources, protecting them from the kind of prosecution that Gertz is currently facing.

CJFE believes that the ability to protect the confidentiality of sources is crucial to journalists. Journalists play a vital role in society by exposing wrongdoing, often in cases that involve the government and the highest authorities of a country. Without confidential sources, many public interest stories would not be published. Confidential sources are essential to the effective functioning of the media in a free and democratic society.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (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.