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USA7 April 2005

Federal judge lifts home-confinement order for Jim Taricani

Reporter Jim Taricani of WJAR-TV, an NBC affiliate in Providence, Rhode Island, will be released from home confinement on 9 April, two months before completing a six-month sentence imposed by a federal judge on 9 December for contempt for court, because he refused to name a source. The same judge issued the release order yesterday.

Taricani refused to reveal the identity of the person who gave him a videotape made in the course of an FBI undercover investigation. Screened on WJAR-TV 1 February 2001, the tape showed a senior Providence city hall official accepting a bribe from an FBI informant. Several local officials subsequently received prison sentences for corruption.

Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr, the lawyer of one of the defendants in the corruption trials, later identified himself as the person who gave Taricani the video. He did this after Taricani was found guilty of contempt of court, but before he was sentenced. Under the terms of the home confinement sentence, Taricani was banned from working, giving interviews and using the Internet.


091204 Reporter sentenced to 6 months of home confinement for refusing to reveal his source Reporters Without Borders strongly protests against Jim Taricani’s 6-month home confinement sentence for "criminal contempt." The journalist had refused to reveal to the court the source of an undercover FBI videotape. A federal judge ordered Taricani to begin serving the sentence immediately.

"This decision jeopardizes the right of Americans to be informed. Even if Jim Taricani will serve his sentence at home and not in prison, he is nonetheless punished for carrying out his work as a journalist, for informing us. We are all the more concerned because some 10 journalists are now being prosecuted for protecting their sources, Reporters Without Borders worriedly confided. "The role of the press in providing checks and balances is under fire this time, and the US courts must understand that, if the confidentiality of journalists’ sources is not guaranteed, no one will go to them with sensitive information. Journalists are media professionals, not federal investigators. Source confidentiality is "an inviolable principle."

Reporters Without Borders urges Congress to lend its support as soon as possible to a bill presented on November 9 by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd that would ban the federal courts, Congress and the executive branch from forcing journalists to reveal their sources."

Sentenced even though his source identified itself

On December 9, 2004, in Providence, Rhode Island, Federal Judge Ernesto C. Torres sentenced Jim Taricani, of WJAR-TV 10 (an NBC affiliate), to six months of home confinement. The journalist had been found guilty of contempt of court on November 18, but the verdict had been under deliberation since then. Jim Taricani was facing a maximum jail term of six months because of his state of health. Taricani, who at 55, has already suffered one heart attack, received a heart transplant in 1996. U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres ordered Taricani to begin his sentence immediately and said he would impose strict conditions on the home confinement to make the sentence as similar to serving prison time as possible.

The U.S. federal court reproached the journalist for having refused to reveal to a special chamber the identity of the person who provided him with a videotape made in the course of a secret FBI investigation. The latter allegedly revealed corruption among members of the Providence (Rhode Island) municipal council.

Jim Taricani was sentenced even though his source-Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr., a lawyer of one of the individuals accused of taking bribes-had revealed his identity to the special prosecutor in charge of the case on November 24, 2004.

Aired on February 1, 2001, the videotape showed a former Providence high-ranking city official accepting a bribe from an FBI informant. Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, Jr., had subsequently been sentenced to a five-year prison term for accepting bribes, along with other members of the municipal council.

Initially, on March 16, 2004, Jim Taricani had been sentenced to pay a fine of $1,000 per diem for as long as he persisted in refusing to reveal his sources. The penalty had been upheld in appeal on August 12. On November 4, ruling that this punishment was ineffective, Judge Torres set it aside and gave the journalist 14 days to reveal his source, or risk having his "misdemeanor" offense requalified as a "crime." If such were the case, at the penalty phase, the journalist could face a jail term of up to six months. As Jim Taricani had persisted in his refusal, he was found guilty on November 18, of the crime of contempt of court.

Significant pending trials

On December 8, 2004, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard the lawyer of Matthew Cooper, of Time magazine, and Judith Miller, of the New York Times, also tried for "contempt of court." Cooper and Miller refuse to disclose their sources to a grand jury set up to investigate the leaks that led to the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, being revealed in the press.

During the trial, their lawyer (invoking jurisprudence and the First Amendment of the Constitution), asked that the court recognize the journalists’ absolute privilege to refuse to reveal their sources. The prosecution, however, based its findings on a ruling in 1972 by the Supreme Court (Branzburg v. Hayes), asked that the journalists be permitted to benefit only from a qualified privilege," which did not exonerate them from revealing their sources when their testimony may turn out to be essential in criminal cases. At the end of the trial, the court deferred its decision. Both journalists are facing a prison sentence of up to 18 months.

The White House was suspected of leaking Plame’s name to punish her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for publicly contradicting claims made by President Bush to justify invading Iraq.

Five journalists who had covered the case of Wen Ho Lee-a scientist initially accused of spying and later cleared-were sentenced by a Washington federal judge on August 18 to pay fines of $500 a day until they agree to reveal their sources. In a case which Lee had brought against the Justice and Energy departments, the judge ruled that he had a right to know which official leaked the information that led to the news reports mentioning that he was suspected of spying.

Journalist Vanessa Leggett was jailed for nearly six months in July 2001 for contempt of court after refusing to reveal to a Texas court the content of an interview with the prime suspect in a crime.

Bill before Congress

Sen. Dodd’s bill would prohibit the federal courts, Congress and the executive branch from forcing journalists to reveal their sources, regardless of whether they had promised to keep them confidential. The ban would include journalists’ notes, negatives and files. According to the bill, journalists would only be forced to reveal a source if such information would be decisive in a legal case, could not be obtained elsewhere, and would be of absolutely vital public interest. Dodd presented the bill at the end of the congressional session, but promised to resubmit it at the start of the next session in January 2005.


For further information, please visit: http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=47, category "US courts threaten right to keep sources secret »



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