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SPJ: Assange indictment raises serious concerns for press freedom


J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President, 212-283-0843, atarquinio@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists is deeply troubled by yesterday’s announcement WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been indicted on 17 new counts of violating the Espionage Act for receiving and publishing classified documents.

“As supporters and advocates of the First Amendment, we worry about the effects this could have on journalists seeking to publish lawfully obtained classified information in the public interest,” said J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ National President.

“Questions about whether or not Assange was acting as a journalist became irrelevant once the Espionage Act was brought into play,” she said. “WikiLeaks is clearly a publisher. If this dangerous precedent were applied more broadly, it could have a chilling effect on the publication of newsworthy classified information.”

There are situations where it is in the public’s interest to bring classified information to light, but the SPJ Code of Ethics says journalists should weigh the pros and cons of publishing such information when there is the potential to do harm or lives may be at risk.

The Code advises journalists to: “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.”

Tarquinio said this shows the value of having a professional code of ethics. “However, the decisions based on that Code are the prerogative of the publisher and should not be regulated by government,” she said.

SPJ will continue monitoring the situation.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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