The International Federation of Journalists today accused Time-Warner, one of the world’s largest media corporations of a “profound betrayal” of principle over its decision to publicly defy its reporter’s wishes and hand over his notebook to avoid heavy fines in a court action over protection of sources.
Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine was ready to go to jail for refusing to name a source in a controversial story leaked from inside the White House. But the company yesterday took the matter out of his hands and announced it would hand over the information after losing a US Supreme Court appeal.
However, a second journalist, Judith Miller of the New York Times, is standing firm and is backed by her company. The IFJ is calling on its unions around the world to support her and to co-ordinate protests when she comes up for sentencing before a US Federal judge on July 6.
“The action of Time-Warner is a profound betrayal of the cardinal principle of journalism,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The company’s decision to repudiate their own reporter when he seeks to defend the ethics of journalism is unconscionable. This failure of principle is not just a blow to professionalism and morale in one company, it is damaging for journalism the world over.”
The IFJ said and it was “impossible not to conclude that commercial interests have taken priority over a principled defence of professional secrecy.”
The IFJ said it welcomed the statement by the New York Times that it will stick by Judith Miller, a member of the IFJ-affiliated union The Newspaper Guild-CWA. Miller and Cooper were following a story on who leaked the name of Valerie Plame, a Central Intelligence Agency. Cooper wrote a story suggesting she had been deliberately exposed by the Bush administration because her husband, a former diplomat, had contradicted claims that Iraq sought to buy uranium – one of the key assertions used by President Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Miller conducted interviews on the subject but never wrote a story. She has said she would go to jail rather than identify any confidential source.
“Journalists around the world are giving their full support to the New York Times and Miller,” said White. “In many countries reporters are under pressure to reveal sources, but they resist because they know that without professional secrecy there can be no viable journalism.”
The IFJ is asking its member organisations in more than 100 countries to send messages of support to the New York Times and to Judith Miller through The Newspaper Guild-CWA, which is organising a wave of national protests in the US to coincide with her court appearance next week when she is widely expected to be sentenced to prison.
“Journalists brave enough to stand up for what they believe in must be supported by their colleagues and proprietors,” said White.
In another worrying case, the IFJ has highlighted a US appeals court decision this week which upheld contempt findings against four reporters who refused to identify sources for their stories about a dismissed government scientist, Wen Ho Lee. Mr Lee is seeking the documents in a civil action he has taken against the government. A judge has imposed $500-a-day fines on the reporters.
“This is another action that puts intolerable pressure on journalists,” said White. “It’s time for US judges to look at the consequences for democracy and press freedom when they declare open season on anyone who talks to a reporter in the public interest.”
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