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Society of Professional Journalists opposes CFR recommendation

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The Society of Professional Journalists urged U.S. officials to reject a recommendation that they restore the practice of allowing intelligence agents to pose as journalists or members of the clergy.

SPJ's Executive Committee, meeting during a weekend writers workshop here, adopted a resolution critical of the recommendation by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

"The CFR proposal is a wrong headed idea and goes against the grain of what truly responsible American citizens would want their government to do," said SPJ President G. Kelly Hawes, metro editor of The Muncie (Ind.) Star. "This would undermine people's faith in their emblems of religion and the integrity of the press. And it could clearly undermine the safety of reporters working overseas."

The committee at its Feb. 3 meeting also approved spending additional money to fight Orem, Utah's, refusal to release city records, and granted provisional status to a new campus chapter at Emporia State University in Kansas.

The meeting was held as about 300 journalists attended professional development workshops.

SPJ opposed the CFR's proposed recommendation, issued as part of a renewed debate on the role of the intelligence community in the post-Cold War era. A task force report said the CIA should increase its spying and covert activities, within legal constraints, including use of the press as a cover.

Such practices were accepted until the mid 1970s, when President Carter banned the practice by executive order. Even so, in 1986, Soviet authorities detained and arrested U.S. News & World Report Moscow correspondent Nicholas Daniloff, accusing him of spying in Moscow. Daniloff was later released in return for the release of a Soviet spy captured by U.S. authorities.

"We have no problem with responsible intelligence gathering abroad, but too often the CIA has gotten involved with thugs, thieves and other corrupt individuals ostensibly for the welfare of the American people and protection of democracy," Hawes said. "President Clinton and CIA Director John Deutsch would be well advised to publicly tell the CFR 'thanks but no thanks' on this idea."

The resolution states,

WHEREAS, the press has long been recognized for its fairness, balance and accuracy and for its avoidance of conflicts of interest;

And, WHEREAS, it was common practice during the Cold War for U.S. intelligence agents to recruit American foreign correspondents to be spies in sensitive world capitals;

And, WHEREAS, such practices placed U.S. correspondents at risk, compromised their positions, and jeopardized their ability to work on behalf of their readers, listeners and viewers;

And, WHEREAS, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 104 reporters worldwide have been murdered in the last two years just for doing their jobs;

And, WHEREAS, President Carter in 1976 recognized the danger of allowing CIA agents to pose as journalists and abolished the practice;

And, WHEREAS, even with that ban Soviet authorities in 1986 detained and arrested U.S. News & World Report correspondent Nicholas Daniloff and released him in return for an arrested Soviet spy;

And, WHEREAS the Council on Foreign Affairs has recommended U.S. officials consider allowing intelligence agents to pose as journalists in the future;

Now, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Society of Professional Journalists urges the Clinton administration and the U.S. intelligence community to retain and abide by the executive order approved by President Carter in 1976.

-- Approved by the SPJ Executive Committee, Feb. 3, 1996, in Phoenix, Ariz.

In other business, the Executive Committee also:

Approved spending an additional $5,000 to fight Orem city officials' refusal to release data on finalists for the city manager's job, as required by Utah state law. The additional funding boosts to more than $15,000 the money SPJ has spent to support The (Provo) Daily Herald in fighting to open the records.

The committee urged other Utah newspapers and other journalism organizations to join in challenging Orem's flagrant violation of the state law. SPJ plans to raise additional Legal Defense Funds for the continuing legal challenge at regional conferences this spring.

Granted provisional status to the Emporia State University student chapter in Kansas, a new group that begins with 13 students studying newspaper journalism and other media related courses.

Established a timetable for final consideration of a proposed revision to the Code of Ethics, which was debated at the 1995 National Convention in St. Paul but was deferred until the 1996 meeting in Crystal City, Va., Sept. 18 21. The Society's Ethics Committee will meet June 1 in Philadelphia, during an Ethics Conference, and submit final revisions in language by June 10 for consideration by the Executive Committee at its meeting June 20 in Greencastle, Ind.

During the summer, copies of the final revisions will be circulated to chapter presidents and others in advance of consideration by the full convention at the business session Sept. 21.

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