AFTRA Renews Call for Passage of "Free Flow of Information Act"
Supreme Court Rejection of Journalists' Appeal Highlights Need for Federal Law
Los Angeles, June 27, 2005 – The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) today reiterated its call for passage of the "Free Flow of Information Act" - H.R. 581/S. 340, bipartisan federal legislation that would serve to protect reporters' confidential sources.
"In light of the Supreme Court's decision not to act, it is apparent that federal legislation is necessary to protect this core element of a free and vigorous press. Journalists have an ethical duty to protect their confidential sources, and if they are forced to abandon this obligation, critical information will never reach the public,” noted Rebecca Rhine, Assistant National Executive Director of AFTRA.
In February, the United States Appellate Court for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously rejected two reporters' arguments that they should not be held in contempt of court for refusing to identify their sources in the Valerie Plame investigation. The ruling denied an appeal from Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, who were sentenced to up to 18 months for refusing to disclose sources that leaked to them the identity of CIA Agent Valerie Plame. Today the Supreme Court declined to intervene.
An unprecedented number of journalists have been cited recently for contempt in federal court for refusing to disclose the identity of sources to which they had promised confidentiality or anonymity. Law enforcement agencies increasingly have resorted to threats of legal action or criminal sanction against journalists who are reporting news and information for the public good. Increasingly, journalists risk fines and imprisonment for refusing to testify about their sources.
The "Free Flow of Information Act," which is based on existing Department of Justice Guidelines that have been in place for over thirty years, would allow testimony to be compelled from a journalist only after non-media sources have been exhausted and when such testimony is essential to the criminal or civil case.
Currently, thirty-one states, and the District of Columbia have shield laws to protect reporters' privilege.
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists -- affiliated with the AFL-CIO -- is a diverse national union representing nearly 80,000 professional performers, broadcasters, and recording artists in 32 Locals throughout the country. AFTRA members work as actors, broadcast journalists, dancers, singers, announcers, hosts, comedians, and disc jockeys in all aspects of the media industries including television and radio, sound recordings, commercials, industrial non-broadcast, interactive games, and the Internet. Visit AFTRA online at www.aftra.com.