Reporters Without Borders today welcomed a ruling by US district judge Robert W. Sweet of Manhattan, New York, recognizing the right of two New York Times journalists, Judith Miller and Philip Shenon, to protect the confidentiality of their sources.
"This is just a small victory as it is only a lower court ruling and other cases are still pending that are likely to weaken the confidentiality of sources," the press freedom organization said.
"But this ruling reaffirms one of press freedom’s inviolable principles and it is an encouraging development while we wait for the US senate and house of representatives to consider two bills that would guarantee journalists absolute protection for their sources before the courts," Reporters Without Borders added.
In his ruling issued on 24 February, Judge Sweet said records of phone calls made by the two journalists did not have to be surrendered to federal prosecutors investigating a governmental leak in an investigation begun in 2001 into two Islamic charities suspected of links with terrorist groups. The judge based his decision on First Amendment privilege as interpreted in previous court rulings.
A lawyer for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explained that Miller and Shenon telephoned the charities to get their reaction to the fact they were the target of an FBI investigation. As a result, they were accused of alerting the charities to the investigation’s existence.
The attempt to seize the phone records was made by Chicago US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who is also responsible for obtaining an 18-month suspended prison sentence against Miller and Time magazine journalist Matthew Cooper for their refusal to name their sources in an investigation into who leaked the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame to the press.
Some 10 journalists are currently been prosecuted in the United States for refusing to disclose their sources.