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SPJ condemns ruling to force San Francisco reporters to divulge sources

For Immediate Release:

David Carlson, SPJ president, (352) 846-0171 or carlson@spj.org
Joel Campbell, Freedom of Information Committee co-chairman, 801-362-4298 or joelcampbell@byu.edu

INDIANAPOLIS – The ability of journalists to gather news without fear of government intimidation took another blow Tuesday when two San Francisco Chronicle reporters were told by a federal judge that they must disclose their sources of leaked grand jury testimony by baseball player Barry Bonds, said David Carlson, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California is trying to find out who leaked grand jury testimony to reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) case. The newspaper argues that the public benefit of the journalists’ reports outweighs the harm caused by the disclosure of grand jury material. The reporters’ work helped prompt Major League Baseball to adopt new rules regarding steroid use by players.

The Chronicle plans to appeal the decision to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

“Prosecutors shouldn’t use journalists as agents of discovery in their efforts to find leaks,” Carlson said. “Journalists are not arms of law enforcement.

“The American people benefited from the reporting of these two journalists, and it led to significant changes in the way baseball polices the use of steroids. The reporters shouldn’t now be asked to make a choice between jail and divulging their confidential sources.”

Joel Campbell, SPJ’s Freedom of Information committee co-chairman, said this case is just another reason that Congress should pass a strong reporter’s shield law. Last year, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for 85 days for refusing to say who told her that Valerie Plame, the wife of Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA operative.

“Most states, including California, offer some protection to journalists to keep their sources confidential. The federal government needs to offer reporters similar protections,” Campbell said. “Without a promise of confidentiality, many whistleblowers and citizens with important information will not tell their stories to journalists. This creates a chilling effect on the watchdog role of the press.”

SPJ, along with other journalism organizations, support the Free Flow of Information Act introduced in Congress. For more information about SPJ’s campaign for a Federal Shield Law see: http://www.spj.org/shieldlaw.asp?#4

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; 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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