IFJ Says Jailing of Reporter in United States “Chilling for Democracy and Press Freedom”

The International Federation of Journalists today said that the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to name a confidential source was “chilling for democracy and press freedom” and would spark outrage among journalists the world over.

Yesterday a federal judge sent Miller to jail for refusing to name a source in a controversial story about an undercover Central Intelligence Agency officer that was leaked from inside the White House. She has been backed by her company; the New York Times, which called her stance “an act of conscience.”

“The judge’s decision casts a long shadow over journalism both within the United States and worldwide,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It has a chilling effect on democracy and press freedom and sends a message to all potential sources that they risk being exposed even when they speak to journalists at great personal risk and in the public interest.”

The IFJ is backing calls led by its affiliate The Newspaper Guild-CWA for a Federal shield law that gives journalists protection when they refuse to reveal sources of information. Such protection exists at State level in some parts of the country, but legal protection nationwide is now urgently needed says the IFJ

“It is vital that the country which has – Constitutionally at least – the highest level of press freedom in the world should ensure that this cardinal principle of journalism is protected,” said White.

A second reporter, Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper, avoided jail when he said that his source gave him permission to reveal their identity. The IFJ has severely criticised Cooper’s employer Time-Warner, one of the world’s largest media corporations, which last week decided to defy its reporter’s wishes and hand over his notebook to avoid heavy fines. The IFJ called Time Warner’s decision a “profound betrayal” of principle.

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.

The IFJ is calling on all of its member unions to join the protests in the United States over the sentence on Miller and to call for her immediate release. “This is an important moment of solidarity for journalists everywhere,” said White. “If journalists can be sent to jail in the States for just doing their job in an ethical manner, then no reporter is safe.”

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The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries