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Home > SPJ News > Society Says Judge Should Reverse Reporters' Fines

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Society Says Judge Should Reverse Reporters' Fines

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
12/19/2000


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Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323; Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment legal counsel, 202/861-1500

INDIANAPOLIS - The Society of Professional Journalists urges a Philadelphia judge to reverse her decision to fine two reporters $40,000 each.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan fined Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden and Philadelphia Tribune reporter Linn Washington Jr. after they refused to turn their interview notes over to the court in the murder trial of defendant Brian Tyson.

The Society sent a letter to Greenspan today supporting the reporters and asking the judge to reverse the fines. The letter also was copied to the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board and the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline.

"Judge Greenspan's decision to fine these two journalists is simply outrageous," said Ray Marcano, SPJ president and regional editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. "They've broken no laws, done nothing illegal and are protected by Pennsylvania's shield law. But since the judge can't prohibit these journalists from doing their job, she has decided to levy a fine that can only serve to try to intimidate them and their colleagues across the state. As journalists, we need to send a message that these strong-armed judicial tactics don't work in a country that supports a free press, and SPJ stands with Mark Bowden and Linn Washington Jr. as they battle this unfair and unjust fine. We also call on Judge Greenspan to immediately reverse her decision."

Bowden and Washington are protected from relinquishing their notes under Pennsylvania's state shield law. The state's shield law guards sources' identities and unpublished information of a "person engaged on, connected with, or employed by any newspaper, press association or magazine for the purpose of gathering, procuring, compiling, editing or publishing news."
The Society wrote in its letter that it "supports the efforts of Bowden and Washington to protect their interview notes because we believe it is in the best interest of a free, ethical and credible American press."

"As we understand it, a judge in Pennsylvania has never done what Judge Greenspan did last week - hold reporters in contempt for refusing to turn over unpublished notes to prosecutors for use in a criminal trial," said Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment legal counsel. "The judge based her decision on the fact that the interviews with the journalists were on-the-record. But even information that is not provided on a confidential basis is protected under Pennsylvania's shield law."


Letter sent to Judge Jane Greenspan



Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2000
The Hon. Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan
Court of Common Pleas
Suite 1206
Criminal Justice Center
1301 Filbert St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Dear Judge Greenspan,

The Society of Professional Journalists writes to oppose in the strongest terms your decision to fine two Philadelphia reporters $40,000 each for refusing to relinquish their interview notes to the court.

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden and Philadelphia Tribune reporter Linn Washington Jr. have no legal, ethical or professional obligation to provide their interview notes for the murder trial of defendant Brian Tyson.

In fact, the reporters you have fined are protected under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s shield law from turning over their interview notes. The law protects not only sources’ identities but unpublished information as well, which includes reporters’ interview notes. The protection of the commonwealth’s shield law includes a "person engaged on, connected with, or employed by any newspaper, press association or magazine for the purpose of gathering, procuring, compiling, editing or publishing news."

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest journalism organization, representing not only working journalists — print, online and broadcast — but also academics, high school and college students, public relations professionals, media attorneys and government officials.

Our members adhere to common goals — protecting the public interest by serving as a watchdog for freedom of information and ensuring that an ethical and credible group of professionals reports the news.

The Society supports the efforts of Bowden and Washington to protect their interview notes because we believe it is in the best interest of a free, ethical and credible American press.

We hope you will reconsider your decision to fine two reporters who simply are following the ethical standards of their profession and serving the public interest with their reporting.

Sincerely,

Ray Marcano,
National Board President
Society of Professional Journalists

cc: Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board; Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline;
Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment Legal Counsel


Dec. 20 clarifcation...



Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2000
The Hon. Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan
Court of Common Pleas
Suite 1206
Criminal Justice Center
1301 Filbert St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Dear Judge Greenspan,

On Tuesday, Dec. 19, the Society of Professional Journalists wrote to oppose in the strongest terms your decision to fine two Philadelphia reporters $40,000 each for refusing to relinquish their interview notes to the court.

On behalf of the Society, I wanted to make clear that neither of the newspapers involved — nor the individual reporters — asked SPJ to write to you. We acted in complete independence.

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest journalism organization, representing not only working journalists — print, online and broadcast — but also academics, high school and college students, public relations professionals, media attorneys and government officials.

As such, we often support the causes of working journalists and in this case wanted to protest the fines being levied against Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden and Philadelphia Tribune reporter Linn Washington Jr.

And while we vigorously disagree with your decision, we certainly did not mean to impugn your ethics in any way by copying the letter to the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board and the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline. We are not calling for an investigation of your conduct and regret any misunderstandings our letter might have caused in this regard.

Thank you for your time in this matter.
Sincerely,

Ray Marcano,
National Board President
Society of Professional Journalists

cc: Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board; Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline;
Bruce Brown, SPJ First Amendment Legal Counsel


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