National Press Club Objects to Judge’s Order in Press Freedom Case

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2008 LAWFUEL – Legal Newswire — The National Press Club has joined 18 news organizations and 14 professional and trade
organizations in an amicus curiae brief filed in support of former reporter Toni Locy’s appeal from a contempt of court order.

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton ordered Locy to pay fines of up
to $5,000 a day for her refusal to identify all of the confidential sources that she used while reporting about terrorism-related stories. Walton’s order also prohibits Locy from receiving assistance in paying those fines from any outside source, including her former employer, USA Today.

Locy has said that she no longer has notes from her reports and that
she cannot recall who gave her the information.

The amicus brief argues that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C.
Circuit’s long-recognized constitutional reporter’s privilege should
protect Locy from forced disclosure of her sources.

If Walton’s order stands, said Sylvia Smith, president of the National Press Club, “it will have a chilling effect not only on those currently in our profession but also on aspiring newspaper reporters such as those Locy teaches at West Virginia University.”

“If confidential news sources fear that reporters can be coerced into
divulging their sources’ names, then news sources will start to dry up.
That will reduce the flow of news and ultimately weaken our democracy,” she
said.

“No one will ever agree with everything newspapers print,” Smith said.

“But we encourage all those involved in the case to recall the words of Thomas Jefferson: ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.'”

Locy was found in contempt after she did not cooperate with former Army
scientist Steven Hatfill in a civil Privacy Act lawsuit he filed against
the government. Hatfill, who was named as a “person of interest” in the
federal government’s investigation into the anthrax mailings that killed
five people, contends that FBI and Justice Department officials violated
federal privacy laws by releasing information about their investigation to
Locy and other journalists.

The amicus brief contends that the public’s interest in protecting a
reporter’s sources and maintaining the free flow of information far
outweighs any private benefit that Hatfill might enjoy by identifying
Locy’s full slate of terrorism-related sources.

Oral arguments on the appeal will be May 9.

The National Press Club is a membership organization dedicated to
promoting excellence in journalism and protecting the First Amendment
guarantees of freedom of speech and of press. Founded in 1908. it is the
nation’s largest journalism association, and its 3,700 members span the
globe.

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