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SPJ concerned over Taricani sentencing


Irwin L. Gratz
, President, 207/874-6570 or

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists expresses its very grave concerns over the six-month sentence of house arrest imposed by a federal judge on Providence, R.I., television reporter Jim Taricani in the wake of his decision not to identify a confidential source.

Taricani, a well-respected and veteran reporter at WJAR-TV, received the sentence Dec. 9 for refusing to name the tipster who gave him a FBI videotape showing a bribe being offered to Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr.

The Taricani case represents the latest in what seems to be a spate of attempts by prosecutors across the country to force journalists to reveal sources utilized in their reporting efforts that are aimed at serving and keeping the public well informed.

"SPJ is extremely disappointed that prosecutors seem to have lost their sense of restraint about seeking information from reporters, potentially damaging our ability to do our jobs," said SPJ President Irwin Gratz, Morning Edition Producer for Maine Public Radio. "It continues to look like open season on reporters."

During Taricani's house confinement for criminal contempt, the judge has imposed several punitive conditions: Taricani is denied Internet access, is not allowed to give interviews and is forbidden to do any reporting work. SPJ believes these additional sentence restrictions constitute a further encroachment on Taricani's First Amendment rights.

"Draconian is the word I would use (to describe these conditions)," said Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.

It is also worth noting that the apparent source for Taricani's reporting has come forward and publicly identified himself, claiming that he never insisted on confidentiality. Taricani, though, insists confidentiality was part of the agreement to obtain the videotape.

The lingering question about whether confidentiality was promised should serve as a cautionary reminder for all journalists about the potential pitfalls of promising confidentiality in return for information.

As the Society's Code of Ethics notes, journalists should:
* Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
* Always question sources' motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

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