Friday, April 29, 2005

Do bloggers and reporters need more legal protection?

...

Bill To Protect Reporters Gains Support

Another Effort Focuses On Shielding Whistleblowers From Workplace Retaliation

April 29, 2005 By DAVID LIGHTMAN, Washington Bureau Chief, The Hartford Courant

WASHINGTON -- Reporters would not have to disclose their confidential sources to federal officials and would have an easier time protecting their notes and other material under legislation that has picked up strong support in Congress.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., who launched the effort in November, appeared Thursday with a new, politically diverse group of supporters, including Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., one of the House's leading conservatives, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind.

Dodd got involved in the issue when Jim Taricani, a Providence, R.I., television reporter, was found guilty last year of criminal contempt for refusing to reveal who gave him a videotape of a Providence official taking a bribe.

Taricani, a Newington native, this month finished serving a four-month home confinement sentence.Additional members of Congress have joined the Dodd effort because of other cases around the country, notably those of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.

They face jail time for refusing to testify about their confidential sources before a federal grand jury investigating the disclosure of a CIA undercover officer's identity.

The sentences of Miller and Cooper, who were held in contempt last year by U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, have been stayed while they pursue an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because the Taricani, Miller and Cooper matters involved federal investigations, no shield law covered them, a point reiterated by a three-judge federal panel in February that studied the privilege issue.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have shield law protections for reporters. Connecticut does not.Beyond the world of journalists, though, there's also interest in protecting sources where they work.

The Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, Thursday released a report saying that laws aimed at protecting whistleblowers from workplace retaliation are weak and have become weaker since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In the past three and a half years, the report said, leakers have "felt compelled to come forward in greater numbers to address our nation's security weaknesses."

A Government Accountability Office study last year found about 50 percent more whistleblowers annually have sought protection.But, the Project on Government Oversight found, they are not getting the kind of help they need.

Instead of being protected, "these modern-day Paul Reveres who do the right thing and report homeland security and national security flaws get fired," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who is leading an effort to toughen whistleblower protection laws.

"They are blackballed from getting other jobs," he maintained. "They go broke. Their lives are ruined."There have been some efforts at increasing protection. The 2002 corporate reform bill gave new help for whistleblowers at publicly traded companies, and last year the Bush administration created new procedures to help protect such insiders.

But the Project report found that retaliation is still too common, so Markey, working with former FBI contractor and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, would make retaliating a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

If the government said it could not take the case to court because secrets were involved - a growing problem for leakers, according to the Project - the whistleblower would automatically win the case under the Markey bill.

Dodd's protection for reporters does not go that far, but is being marketed in the same spirit.

Thirty years ago, the Justice Department adopted a policy setting standards to be met before it could issue a subpoena to a journalist in a federal case.

The bill essentially uses those standards and makes them mandatory in most federal judicial, legislative, executive and administrative proceedings.

While prosecutors could not learn the names of sources, the government could seek information from journalists if it could show officials have tried without success to get those details in other ways.

Questioning journalists, said Dodd, "should be the last arrow in the quiver, not the first."Conservatives agreed.

"Nothing's more connected with my ideals," Pence said. "The only check on government power is a free individual's power."

The bill is expected to be the subject of a House Judiciary Committee hearing May 12, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to follow soon afterward, since Crime and Drugs Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., is one of the bill's chief backers.

While Markey's bill seemed to have little support thus far, there were more promising signs for the Dodd effort.

"I'm encouraged by the signals we're getting," said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., a senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

While enacting laws to protect journalists has generally been a low priority for the public and for lawmakers, Boucher said all the publicity given to recent cases will make a difference.

"This time," he said, "the public's attention has been riveted on this protection, more than it has been previously."

This blogger's email: stevengerickson@yahoo.com

1 Comments:

Blogger saby said...

we had a sensational case of a whistle blower in the Golden Triangle Project for highway construction

it leaked from the PMO's office
the guy was killed

no leads on who done it
dont tink we will have another whistle blower for a while

Monday, May 23, 2005 1:26:00 AM  

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