A big chill. That's what advocates of press freedom in the US fear following the jailing of journalist Judith Miller, who covers national security at the New York Times. She refused to name a source in a scandal about a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative that reaches into the bowels of the White House.
The scandal, the talk of Washington for the past two years, is shrouded in official secrecy and complicated by high-level political smear tactics and by Miller's own history of relying on unnamed sources for major stories.
The leak of the undercover agent's name -- Valerie Plame -- though it may originate with the Bush administration's need to justify the Iraq war and is classified information, is unlikely to become another Watergate with a Deep Throat that topples a president. But the implications of Miller's imprisonment, part of a broader trend of legal pressures on US journalists, are huge.
On Wednesday, Miller, a veteran correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner, was shackled at the ankles and wrists and bundled off to a jail cell in Virginia. She faces four months there, a sentence that the prosecutor has hinted he may try to get extended.
US journalists are already facing an unprecedented number of contempt of court charges over unnamed sources, said the Reporters' Committee for the Freedom of the Press in Washington.
At least nine currently face sanctions and more are in the offing, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the committee. The trend is expected to accelerate.
The above is from Ros Davidson's "Fears for press freedom as US jails journalist: Prosecution for failing to reveal CIA source reflects growing tensions" (Scotland's Sunday Herald) and Kara e-mailed to highlight this article last night. Which led me to wonder about some other reactions.
Via Watching America, here's Enrique del Val Blanco "Washington's Attack on Freedom of the Press" (El Universal):
All of this was done for the purpose of discovering what we already know - that the person who released the information [the name of Mrs. Plame] is none other than Carl Rove, chief White House adviser and great friend of George Bush.
This revelation has caused the sensation that all of this is being orchestrated by the Bush government to discredit the diplomat, who failed to faithfully follow the instructions of the hawks that, to the world’s misfortune, govern that country. [Wilson published an op-ed piece in the New York Times dismissing the Niger claims].
But independently of who was the source of the information and who benefits from it, we must face the lamentable fact and this attack on the sources of intelligence will create a very bad precedent, not only for the American press, but worldwide. We all know how often it is, that to get to the truth, reporters need confidential sources, and that this is the only way the public is ever informed of what is actually happening.
For a magazine with the prestige and reputation of Time to have buckled under pressure and to have hung out to dry one of its reporters does nothing but persuade us that the United States media is subjugated by the plans of the government, and that its supposed independence is a lie.
Here's Reporters Without Borders, "Prison for Judith Miller : a dark day for freedom of the press:"
It was with great sadness and concern that Reporters Without Borders learned on July 6, 2005, a federal judge ordered New York Times reporter Judith Miller to serve time in jail for contempt of court for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative's name. She was taken into custody immediately. Judith Miller faces up to four months in jail, the length of time before the term of the federal grand jury in the case expires.
Matt Cooper avoided prison after agreeing to reveal his sources in front a the grand jury. He said his source gave him a personal confidentiality waiver, allowing him to discuss their conversation.
"It is a dark day for freedom of the press in the United States and around the world. This unprecedented sentence against a journalist who was merely exercising her professional rights is a serious violation of international law, a dangerous precedent, and the United States has sent a very bad signal to the rest of the world. As a member of the Organization of American States, the United States has a duty to comply with the texts adopted by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, whose Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression clearly stipulates that every journalist has "the right to keep his/her source of information, notes, personal and professional archives confidential" (Article 8)," Reporters Without Borders stated.
And via Watching America, "Jailing of American Journalist is Unjust" (editorial from The Australian):
Miller did not publish the name of the agent. At least one other journalist who did has co-operated with the investigators and is being left alone. But it is Miller who is in jail for refusing to talk. This is not only unreasonable but an assault on a fundamental principle. Information is the oxygen of freedom. If public servants cannot trust journalists not to betray them, they will stay silent, making it easier for governments to cover-up everything and anything they prefer citizens not knowing. This can happen here. Australia has even fewer legal protections for the community's right to know how they are being governed than apply in the U.S. While there will always be national security and public safety exceptions, journalists who do not protect their sources fail to meet their own obligations to the community.
If you've seen a reaction from outside the US on Judith Miller's jailing, send it in and we'll note it.
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