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SPJ leaders call arrests of Village Voice Media executives ridiculous, unnecessary
Clint Brewer, President. (615) 668-4535
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 507-8911
INDIANAPOLIS — The arrests of two alternative newspaper executives in Arizona is a despicable abuse of power, leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists said on Friday.
According to a story on the Phoenix New Times Web site, which is owned by Village Voice Media, Executive Editor Michael Lacey and Chairman/CEO Jim Larkin were taken into custody late Thursday for revealing grand jury information in their recent story “Grand Jury Targets New Times and Its Readers.”
Their story revealed that Village Voice Media executives, reporters from the Phoenix Times and information about some Web site readers were subpoenaed by a special prosecutor. The special prosecutor had been appointed to look into allegations that the Phoenix New Times had violated the law in publishing the home address of Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“In this case, it appears some very gray, even contradictory, state law is being used by public officials against a newspaper that has been vigorous and brave in reporting on the record of Sheriff Joe Arpaio,” Society of Professional Journalists National President Clint Brewer said Friday. “In addition, this special prosecutor’s attempts to gain access to reader and Web site use records of the newspaper is an attack on the First Amendment rights of journalists almost without comparison. The people of Arizona should not stand for these tactics by law enforcement officials.”
In the story written by Lacey and Larkin, the men claimed the subpoena was part of an investigation by the county’s government to get even with reporters over stories they wrote that criticized County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Arpaio. Stories discussed Arpaio’s significant real estate holdings and his tough stance on running jails. Information sought by the grand jury included reporter notes and information about readers, including their Internet domain names, browsers and additional Web sites they visited before reading New Times coverage since Jan. 1, 2004.
“We're being arrested for raising hell,” Lacey remarked in a story published on the Village Voice Web site. “It's sort of a tradition journalism has.”
“It is certainly in the interest of the people of Arizona to know that journalists in their state at one of the finest alternative news weeklies in the country are being targeted by a special prosecutor,” Brewer, executive editor of The City Paper in Nashville, Tenn., added. “The people of Phoenix and Arizona should reject the actions of local officials to jail journalists, which exerts a chilling effect on a free press.”
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists 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. For further information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.