REGIONS:

PROTECTION OF SOURCES: JOURNALISTS WIN IN GERMANY AND USA

Journalists' efforts to protect their sources have resulted in two reporters avoiding jail in the United States, and a court victory in Germany.

In the U.S., two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who refused to reveal sources for a 2004 story on performance-enhancing drugs will avoid sanctions and up to 18 months in prison. On 1 March 2007, federal judge Jeffrey White cancelled contempt of court proceedings against Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada after Troy Ellerman, a lawyer representing athletes accused of doping, admitted leaking testimony to a grand jury and said he would plead guilty to contempt of court, obstructing justice and filing a false statement.

Williams and Fainaru-Wada reported on a federal grand jury investigation into drug-taking in the sports world, using testimony by four athletes accused of taking steroids provided by a local laboratory. Ordered to reveal the source of the leak, the journalists cited the right to protect their sources. Judge White sentenced them both to 18 months in prison, the maximum penalty.

Their lawyers appealed, supported on 19 January by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, in a letter to the federal attorney general. She called for a federal law guaranteeing journalists the right to protect sources, which 33 states already have.

If the lawyer had not admitted leaking the information, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) said, a guilty finding in 2005 would likely have been upheld on appeal on 7 March. "This is a happy outcome for the journalists but is in no way a victory for press freedom and protection of sources." In its annual report on the United States, RSF said more than a dozen cases involving protection of sources are under way.

Californian video journalist and blogger Josh Wolf has been in prison since 18 September for refusing to surrender unpublished video footage on a demonstration to a federal grand jury, it noted. A federal appeal court has refused to rehear the case, meaning he will probably stay there until a grand jury investigation finishes in July. He had already spent a month in prison in 2006.

In Germany, the constitutional court ruled that a federal police raid in September 2005 on the offices of the political magazine "Cicero," and the copying of data from its computers, was unconstitutional. "Cicero" had published extracts from a confidential police report about Al-Qaeda in April 2005. Five months later, the police raided the magazine and a journalist's home.

Editor Wolfram Weimer appealed, arguing that the journalists themselves were not suspected of breaking any law. In the ruling issued on 27 February 2007, the court agreed that the raid violating the right to confidentiality of information in paragraph 53 of the criminal code.

RSF hailed the ruling, adding that police should no longer be able to tap journalists' phones. Journalists prosecuted for doing their job "cannot fulfill the role they are meant to play in a democracy, which is to seek out information and to question governments," RSF commented.

Visit these websites:
- RSF story: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21022
- RSF report: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=20542
- Josh Wolf: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/80966

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