Taricani sentenced for refusing to name source

Jim Taricani, the American TV reporter found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to disclose the source of a secretly-recorded videotape, was sentenced not to jail but to six months “home detention”.

Included in the punishment: no access to the internet and no further public statements about the case. He can only leave home, the court ruled, to see his doctor. Before his sentencing Taricani said he never considered himself above the law.

He used the videotape on air in a story about local political corruption ( Press Gazette, 10 December). It has been conceded that neither he nor his TV station broke any law broadcasting the tape which, it has now been disclosed, was provided by a lawyer involved in the case. His only crime: refusing to “name the lawyer”.

A spokesman for the TV station said: “We still consider Jim to be a great reporter”.

The judge in the case said he had taken into account the reporter’s “precarious” health after suffering several recent heart attacks. There are several journalists in the US still waiting sentencing for refusing to disclose the names of informants – among them a reporter for the NY Times and one for Time magazine.

There is great concern among US journalists that these cases are whittling away the long-held belief that journalists have a right under the US Constitution to protect the identity of their sources. At an appeal hearing in Washington, only one of three judges indicated possible agreement with the claim that journalists enjoy special privileges.

A ruling is not expected for several weeks. If the appeal is dismissed the reporters – Judith Miller of the NY Times and Matthew Cooper of Time are expected to take their case to the Supreme Court. In the meantime they remain free, but both find the draw out proceedings “unsettling”.

From Jeffrey Blyth in New York

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