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Throttling the reporter with law

Fri 2014-Nov-7 @ +08 05:25:15 am
It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active.

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.

Master of the Rolls

quoting Irish orator John Philpot Curran, 1790

The New York Times has criticised the outgoing US Attorney-General, Eric Holder Jr, for failing to recognise a reporter’s privilege to protect sources. Holder has said before that “no reporter’s going to jail as long as I’m attorney-general” — but New York Times reporter James Risen faces a government demand to testify against a confidential source in a high-profile leak case.

The NY Times blamed Holder for “undermining robust journalism by his overzealous leak investigations” and urged him to drop the demand against James Risen.

The editorial came on the eve of a meeting with the Justice Department over guidelines on subpoenas and search warrants to obtain information from reporters — which, the Times said, contained a central flaw that imperils news gathering.

So — even in the land of the brave and the free, the effort to maintain press freedom is a continuing struggle between the press and authority, proving the adage that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. What more for us here in Malaysia, the land of the obviously not very brave and the definitely not free? Who speaks up for the rights of the press? Even the press does not.

The New York Times editorial

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who announced his planned resignation in September, bears responsibility for undermining robust journalism by his overzealous leak investigations and his opposition to recognizing a reporter’s constitutional or common law privilege to protect sources.

Perhaps seeking to improve on that dismal record, Mr. Holder issued new guidelines in February concerning prosecutors’ use of subpoenas and search warrants to obtain information from reporters. Those guidelines include some valuable changes, but they also contain a central flaw that requires prompt correction, as a group of media representatives will be urging at a meeting with Justice Department officials scheduled for Thursday.

Instead of retaining straightforward language telling prosecutors not to “impair the news-gathering function” from the previous set of guidelines, new wording unveiled with release of the overhauled guidelines in February calls for avoiding the issuance of subpoenas that “might unreasonably impair ordinary news gathering.” The change by Mr. Holder and his aides could invite prosecutors in the future to claim that news gathering that entails the disclosure of classified information (as national security reporting typically does) is out of the “ordinary” and, therefore, exempted from the guidelines.

Mr. Holder should make sure the guideline’s wording is changed back to avoid that potential loophole.

In a related development, Mr. Holder said on Wednesday that he expects “a resolution” soon in the case of James Risen, a New York Times reporter, who has refused to testify against a confidential source in a high-profile leak case. Mr. Holder reiterated his earlier pledge that “no reporter’s going to jail as long as I’m attorney general” and should drop the demand against Mr. Risen. Even Michael Hayden, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has publicly questioned its wisdom and necessity.
» The New York Times


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