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United States22 April 2009

Ruling recognizes Detroit Free Press reporter’s right to protect his sources

Reporters Without Borders is thrilled with U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland’s ruling that Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter does not have to reveal his confidential sources from a 2004 article he wrote regarding a failed terrorism prosecution.

Cleland accepted Ashenfelter’s argument that naming his sources would violate Ashenfelter’s Fifth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution to avoid self-incrimination.

“This is such a relief and a great news for freedom of the press. Cleland’s ruling reiterates the importance of protecting the identities of confidential sources in cases of public concern. In this case, the Fifth Amendment - rather than the First one - was invoked. But the decision is also a reminder that a federal shield law to protect reporters and their sources is a necessity,” stated Reporters Without Borders.

“It was a good day for reporter Ashenfelter. Although he is still in peril, as the former federal prosecutor who is seeking his confidential sources plans to move for reconsideration. Still, in a case with plenty of ups and downs, this was an up day,” Ashenfelter’s attorney Herschel Fink told Reporters Without Borders in an e-mailed statement.

Ashenfelter used confidential government sources in his article that reported an investigation involving former U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino who prosecuted the first terrorism trial following the Sept. 11 2001 attacks.

Convertino who sued the Justice Department under the Privacy Act, subpoenaed Ashenfelter in 2006 for his confidential sources. Fighting to protect the identity of his sources, Ashenfelter first pleaded the First Amendment, however when that was denied he argued the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination as his defense, which ultimately protected him.

Ashenfelter, along with the entire staff of the Detroit Free Press, was awarded a Pulitzer Monday for local reporting in relation to their coverage of the text message scandal that exposed Kwame Kilpatrick, former Detroit Mayor.

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