To the attention of
The Honorable Arlen Specter
United States Senate Judiciary Committee
Dear Chairman Specter:
On July 20, 2005, the United States Senate Judiciary Committee plans to deliberate on a bill known as the "Free Flow of Information Act of 2005," which was introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate in February. Reporters Without Borders, an organization dedicated to defending press freedom, hopes that this hearing will be the first step toward the text’s swift passage-for this is an urgent matter.
The Judiciary Committee’s meeting comes on the heels of the imprisonment, on July 6, of Judith Miller of The New York Times, who was sentenced to jail for "contempt of court," because she refused to divulge her sources of information. This case constitutes a dangerous precedent for the American press and for the freedom to inform, in view of the fact that other journalists awaiting trial may well receive the same verdict. This case also raises fears that many journalists could lose some of their informants, thereby jeopardizing the press’s role as a counterbalance. Finally, this case indicates a major judicial flaw at the federal legislation level regarding confidentiality of sources.
How can we account for the fact that Judith Miller was sentenced by a DC federal court even though a judge had ruled in her favor in a similar case tried before a New York federal court on February 24? What explanation can there be for the fact that 31 states of the Union uphold shield laws, which recognize a journalist’s privilege to maintain confidentiality of sources while courts at the federal level deprive them of the very same rights? The Supreme Court’s decision of June 27 not to hear the cases of Judith Miller and her colleague Matthew Cooper of Time, unfortunately left this judicial flaw intact. Now it is up to lawmakers to fill in the gap.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this letter.
Reporters Without Borders