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July 6, 2005

Journalist jailed for refusing to reveal source

Category: News

New York Times reporter is sentenced by US Court


Prominent New York Times journalist Judith Miller was today sentenced to prison for refusing to reveal the identity of a confidential source of information for an article.


The conviction related to a story naming CIA agent Valerie Plame, also the wife of a former US ambassador who had criticised President Bush, in 2003. Plame’s name had been given to several journalists by an unnamed US government source. It is an offence to deliberately reveal the identity of an undercover CIA agent, and a court investigation began.


Plame was actually outed by another journalist, Richard Novak, but has avoided prosecution. Miller, although only involved in researching the article, was served with a subpoena, along with another journalist, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine. After initially resisting disclosure, Time, and then just minutes before he was due to be sentenced, Cooper, agreed to reveal the source, the latter after his source had consented to his identity being revealed. Miller continued to resist naming her source and was sentenced to jail until the end of the court investigation in October, or until she chooses to testify.


Despite its general commitment to freedom of expression, US journalists are less well-protected in this particular area than their counterparts in this jurisdiction, who, under s.10 Contempt of Court Act 1981, cannot be required to disclose a source (or held in contempt for refusing to reveal it) unless a court is satisfied that such disclosure is necessary “in the interests of justice or national security or for the prevention of disorder or crime”. Courts have accordingly been most reluctant to order disclosure. The US Supreme Court last week refused to hear an appeal by the journalists against the orders of an Appeal Court requiring them to disclose their sources.


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