The International Federation of Journalists, the worlds' largest journalists' group, today condemned the continued imprisonment of a writer who has defied court orders in the United States to hand over notes of her research into a murder carried out four years ago.
The IFJ says that the case of Vanessa Leggett, who has spent nearly a month in jail, symbolises a growing world-wide problem facing journalists who are facing increasing pressure from the authorities to hand over notes, film and other material to help the police and criminal investigators.
"Writers and journalists have an ethical responsibility to protect their sources and the integrity of their work," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ "they are not police officers. They should be allowed to resolve their ethical dilemmas without coercion of any kind."
Leggett will stay in jail after a federal appeals court in New Orleans refused earlier this month to free her, but she is planning to appeal. Her case concerns research for a book about the shooting death of a Texas woman. The IFJ says that it is astonishing that Leggett, who has handed over tapes of her interviews with a murder suspect shortly before he committed suicide, has not been set free. "She has been ready to co-operate so it is hard to disagree with her claim that the authorities are harassing her," says the IFJ.
The IFJ says this case is undermining constitutional protection for writers and journalists, even though Federal prosecutors argue Leggett, an unpublished writer, is not a journalist and does not fall under the First Amendment's protection of the press. "The authorities play a dangerous game when they start to pick and choose which writers and journalists are entitled to the protection of the Constitution," says the IFJ.
Leggett was researching the death of Doris Angleton, who was found shot to death April 16, 1997. Her husband, Robert Angleton, and his brother, Roger, were charged with the murder, alleging that Robert Angleton, a millionaire former bookie, hired his brother to kill his wife. Leggett spoke with Roger Angleton before he committed suicide in jail. He left behind notes confessing to the murder.
The IFJ says this case, which has provoked concern from many groups within journalism, reflects a growing tendency among police and the authorities world-wide to short-circuit normal investigations by trawling through the work of journalists for evidence. "There are too many cases of journalists being ordered to hand over material to the authorities," said White, "whenever this happens it compromises our independence and undermines the ethical responsibility of reporters and writers."