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SPJ urges release of jailed Flordia journalist

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The Society of Professional Journalists Monday called the 70-day sentence imposed on reporter David Kidwell unreasonably harsh and called for his immediate release.

Kidwell, a reporter with The (Miami) Herald, was found in contempt of court for refusing to testify concerning an interview conducted with murder suspect John Zile.

"The state's attorney in Palm Beach County, Fla., has confused the roles of prosecutor and reporter in the community and tonight a Miami Herald reporter is in jail on a unreasonably harsh, 70-day sentence," said Steve Geimann, SPJ president. "David Kidwell was found in contempt--and is in jail--because he felt strongly that journalists must act independent of government officials and agencies, especially law enforcement and prosecutors."

Zile is charged with first-degree murder in the 1994 death of his stepdaughter. In an interview with Kidwell, Zile admitted his role in the case. Kidwell refused to testify in the case saying the independence of the press is crucial to its watchdog role in society and his testimony might cause others to question whether it is safe to talk to the press.

Geimann agreed with Kidwell.

"If the public believes that reporters can be compelled to testify in such cases, it will significantly erode the credibility of the press," said Geimann.

Geimann added that journalists should not be called upon to do the work of government agencies.

"Prosecutors have paid staffs to investigate murder cases, they shouldn't compel reporters to do such work," said Geimann. "We can't, and shouldn't, become extensions of the prosecutor's office or the police or any other government agency. Our roles in the community are different. Our country has relied on a free and independent press in the same way it depends on a strong judicial system."

SPJ will continue to monitor Kidwell's case closely.

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